'Star scientists' £50m package to boost Welsh economy

Professor John Harries said Wales needed to invest to attract more research funding

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A £50m package to attract 'star scientists' to Wales has been unveiled.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the fund would be used to encourage leading professors to move to Wales to work and boost research and the economy.

It will pay for specialist equipment, top-up salaries to the level outstanding academics would expect and will fund members of their teams.

The Welsh government said it had set a target for Wales to win 5% of competitive research funding in the UK.

Mr Jones said the Welsh government had now created the Ser Cymru (Stars Wales) scheme to address the issue.

Ambitious

Last year its chief scientific adviser, Professor John Harries, warned that Welsh universities had to do more to attract key academics and research income.

Laboratory technician pouring liquid from beaker into glass tube Welsh universities have been told to be more "streetwise" when bidding for UK government funding

At the launch of the scheme on Monday, Prof Harries said: "We've got some real pinnacles of excellence in Wales, but we are not finding that we are getting the levels of funding from UK research councils that we should do.

"So we need to augment the quality we have already in order that we can up our game and bring back more research money for Wales."

He added: "A top researcher in the world will expect to have a reasonably-sized team of post-docs and fellows to support his reasearch; they themselves will expect a decent salary.

"The quality of the work we are doing is really important. If we don't have people who are already capable of doing world-class research, it won't be attractive to these people."

The programme was unveiled to mark the start of National Science and Engineering Week.

The first minister said Welsh universities should use the fund to become more ambitious and more collaborative in their approach to funding bids.

Start Quote

Our universities have the opportunity here to work with the best research groups across the world and strive for excellence”

End Quote Carwyn Jones First Minister

"Wales has some great scientific strengths but as our chief scientific adviser has said himself, we could do so much better," he said.

"Our universities have the opportunity here to work with the best research groups across the world and strive for excellence.

Industry partnerships

"If our universities gain 5% of the competitive research funding from the UK Research Council, this will bring £27m into our economy.

"This rises to over £64m if you look at all sources of competitively-funded research.

"Ser Cymru and our network plans will enable us to attract more talent to Wales to help drive this figure up and in due course create more high quality business and research jobs in Wales."

The strategy sets out three key areas to boost research and businesses - the life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment; and advanced engineering and materials.

The Welsh government said it wanted to see more industry-academic partnerships like SPECIFIC led by Swansea University with Tata Steel UK.

The £20m project aims to turn homes and businesses into self-generating "power stations" by developing a special coating for ordinary building materials, such as steel and glass, that traps and stores solar energy.

Researchers say it could heat and power all sorts of buildings at a fraction of the cost of conventional solar panels and claim it could provide a third of the UK's renewable energy by 2020.

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