The Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales has said Welsh science is missing out on as much as £65m per year.
Although the Welsh Government has promised funds of £50m for Welsh science over the next five years under the Ser Cymru (Star Wales) scheme, Professor John Harries says much more is within reach.
Speaking at the Science Strategy Launch at Cardiff University last night, Prof Harries said Wales is falling behind other countries in the UK in funding from the UK Research Council. Each year in the UK they invest £3bn in researching everything from medicine to astronomy.
Currently Wales only gets 3.3 per cent of this pot, but Prof Harries says as Wales represents five per cent of the population of the UK, they should be aiming for more. Scotland, who represent eight per cent of the UK in terms of population, currently earn 14.8 per cent of the £3bn each year.
Prof Harries said: “With the launch of the new science strategy for Wales, we aim to get the extra 1.7 per cent funding, which will be worth £27m per year to us. But this is only from the UK Research Council. Other sources of competitively-funded research would bring this total to an extra £64m per year.”
He also says Wales must learn from the Scottish model and embrace change if we are to become world leaders in science and technology and stimulate our economy. He urged Welsh scientists to get out of the lab and get around the table to bargain for more funds.
He said Wales has a solid base from which to work. The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008 showed 49 per cent of scientific research in Wales was rate three or four star, meaning it was excellent, and 14 per cent was four star, or world class.
This shows Wales has the potential to be a world leader according to Prof Harries, but he says sacrifices will have to be made, and Wales must focus on three key areas in order to succeed in their aim.
Prof Harries added: “We have some research in Wales which is World class, but in order to really excel we need to focus on our strengths and focus on areas that will be vital to economic growth.
“We must have ambition and not be risk averse, we must go for the big issues and go with what is important. For example, when the Met Office moved to Exeter in 2003, not one of the candidates for a new location was in Wales. There was an opportunity to get 500 of the world’s best meteorologist here and we didn’t even try.”
The three key areas Prof Harries identified as crucial in Wales’s scientific development are advanced engineering and materials, health and life sciences and environmental engineering and lowering carbon.
He said: “I see Wales as potentially being a green laboratory, we led the world into fossil fuels and we can lead it out.”
Prof Harries also identified the lack of top class scientists within Wales as a problem and has come up with ideas to change this.
He added: “We need to provide international stars that will tempt people to come and do their research in Wales. We want a panel of three people who can inspire. We’ve been talking to some potential stars but we don’t want to say anything just yet.”
Fear and apathy towards science was also blamed for Wales not having top scientists. A recent survey shows as many as half of all Welsh children did not enjoy studying science or maths at school.