Thank you, Ambassador, for that kind introduction.
Good morning, everyone.
It is a pleasure to be here today, representing the United Kingdom in Japan as Minister for Science, Research, Technology and Innovation.
Thank you to the Times Higher Education for inviting me here to speak and to Keio University for so kindly hosting us.
It’s a particular personal pleasure for me to be here on behalf of UK with our longstanding global ally Japan in one of the great R+D Powerhouse nations in this great university (especially given the leading role which this university has played in the human genome project, one of the world’s greatest science success stories) at this event with so many distinguished leaders to make some important announcements about UK global science and diplomacy and our Science Superpower mission.
But it’s also a particular pleasure having had a 15-year career in the UK bioscience venture capital sector before coming to Parliament.
In the UK we have a longstanding joke that if you come to Parliament with any particular expertise the Whips will ensure you end up doing something unrelated!
I seem to be the exception that proves the rule!
Elected after a 15-year career in science, research, technology and innovation founding, financing and managing technology start-up companies, I’ve somehow managed to spend 12 years in Parliament on this agenda.
As the first UK Minister for Life Science (launching our ground-breaking 100k Genomics program and Accelerated Access Reforms).
As the first Minister for Agri-tech launching our Agri-tech Industrial Strategy.
As the first UK Minister for the Future of Transport and Transport Tech.
Now as UK Minister for Science, Research, Technology and Innovation.
But in each role and all the time persuading Prime Ministers through the tumultuous last decade that science, research, technology and innovation is key to both UK economic prosperity, global sustainability and security.
Yes. I want to suggest that science is as key to long term global and national security as our military hardware.
Because in a world where lack of food, energy and water represent such massive global challenges – and geopolitical tensions – our security is increasingly shaped as much by our ability to prevent and cure disease, feed 9 billion mouths, prevent the famine and poverty driving the mass population dislocation in Africa, help lessen our dependence on Russia and China for energy and strengthen global commitment to our values as by our military might.
But, of course, soft and hard security and soft and hard power go together.
As we have seen in Ukraine with the appalling attack by a brutal Kremlin war machine determined to flex its muscles, divide the world and test the resolve of the “West”.
It’s a test for all of us and one that our 2 nations have made very clear we will stand up to and pass – with our recent announcement of the new UK Japan Italy next generation fighter technology project.
But I’m here today to focus on the other: the soft power and security that comes from science and technology leadership.
The UK has taken the opportunity of the last decade (the Crash, Austerity, Brexit, Pandemic and War) to reset out global economic and geopolitical vision, mission and strategy.
Our recent Integrated Review sets out a clear analysis of the UK’s place in an increasingly dangerous world.
At its heart is a strategic commitment to science, research, technology and innovation.
It’s reflected in a series of important policy reforms:
First, our strategic commitment to significantly increase the level and role of science, research, technology and innovation in our economy for improved economic growth, productivity, international competitiveness, inward investment, technological sovereignty, industrial resilience, global security and geopolitical soft power.
Second, the establishment alongside the National Security Council of the National Science and Technology Council, (NSTC) chaired by the Prime Minister, with the top half of Cabinet, myself as Science Minister and our National Science and Technology Adviser my good friend Patrick Vallance, to whom I’d like to pay tribute and put on record my personal thanks for all he has done for UK Science and Technology in his years as UK Chief Science and Technology Adviser as he comes to the end of his term this spring.
Third, our 30% increase in public R+D over 3 years announced by the Prime Minister when Chancellor twelve months ago and now protected by Chancellor Hunt last month in a necessarily difficult budget.
Alongside our 30% increase between 2022 and 2027 – to be matched by private sector, pension reforms in the City of London to boost scale-up finance and use of post-Brexit freedoms in Procurement and Regulation to support the UK Technology sector.
As Minister for Science, Research, Technology and Innovation I’m responsible for 75% of the UK budget. That’s £11 billion per annum and £40 billion over CSR.
But I’ve set up an Inter-Ministerial Group of the other key Ministers across other Delts with big R+D budgets.
I’ve framed the Mission in 2 parts.
Our Science Superpower mission isn’t about a militarisation or aggressive sovereignty in science – it’s about delivering 6 key objectives:
One: world class science in an increasingly competitive world
Two: Global Impact for global good
Three: attracting much more global R+D inward investment
Four: recognising science demands global career and talent paths
Five: insisting on the values of scientia: free speech, critical thinking, challenge.
Six: harnessing demonstrable UK commitment to these for geopolitical soft power.
This means reforming our research funding and career ecosystem to ensure we continue to punch above our weight in world class research.
Deepening our collaborations with R+D powerhouses, like Japan.
Improving the global impact of and inward investment into UK R+D.
Widening global talent pathways and international research collaboration.
And maximising UK science, technology and innovation leadership for global geopolitical soft power influence in tackling the big challenges facing our planet.
To be a Science Superpower (as opposed to an academic powerhouse) you have to also be an Innovation Economy linking our R to D: Research AND Development.
Better connecting our science base to the City, using our post-Brexit Regulatory and Procurement freedoms to help make the UK a global test-bed and scale-up hub for innovation.
Widening the regional R+D footprint by nurturing the clusters of innovation around our whole country using our global leverage to help technology transfer and inward Investment in R+D.
This means improving the depth and breadth of the innovation economy across the UK through supporting the regional clusters of STI excellence around the UK.
Increasing investment in the Catapult network and improving successful commercialisation of UK innovation through better industry partnerships and spin/out and scale-up financing and more strategic use of HMG levers through regulation, procurement and global technology transfer.
Fundamentally this is about Britain’s role in the world.
The urgency of post-pandemic economic recovery and the growing geopolitical importance of strategic UK science, research, technology and innovation leadership in an increasingly competitive, and in places hostile, global landscape make these missions increasingly central to the UK’s role in the world.
In all the defining global grand challenges, science is playing an increasingly pivotal role in Food, Medicine, Energy, Global warming, Net Zero and Cleantech, Oceans, Space, Quantum and Compound semiconductors.
The pace of technology is driving the new dawn of a new era in global development.
The prize is huge.
Food security through Agri-tech (that means doubling world food production on the same land area with half as much energy and water by 2050).
Energy security through new energy technologies. Climate security through Cleantech. Biosecurity and public health through Life science and med-tech. Clean oceans. Safe space. Secure data, research and IP.
We are the generation who have to deliver.
For our children and their children.
But it will require all who share the same commitment to science for global good to stand for it.
In a world in which the global race for science, research, technology and innovation is increasingly dominated by China (£240 billion pa), the USA (£180 billion pa + defense = £300 billion pa).
The rest us are going to have to work increasingly closely together.
The EU programs impasse
The European Union has rightly spotted this as an opportunity and makes much of its destiny as the “3rd global bloc”.
In our Brexit negotiations we carefully negotiated to stay in the EU research programs: Horizon, Euratom and Copernicus.
Sadly, the EU has decided to punish the UK for Brexit by weaponizing science for political pressure.
Association to Horizon Europe remains the UK’s aim and we are continuing to push actively for Association with Science Ministers across Europe – most recently in Paris last week (where you will have seen we made a £1.75bn commitment to a range of missions and programs key to UK Space science and industry).
But whilst we push for Association, I am clear that we cannot allow UK researchers to be “benched” indefinitely while we wait.
If we cannot play in the European Cup of science, we must play in the World Cup of science.
So we have made clear that we will provide the interim and “in-flight” funding guarantee to honour the commitment at CSR21 that the money earmarked for Horizon would be invested in UK and international research if and while association continues to be blocked.
But we simply cannot allow the Horizon block to hold back UK research any longer. Our priority is to invest in the UK’s R&D sector, if necessary through alternative programmes.
That’s why the Chancellor announced the £480 million research support package of additional research spending that is targeted at those institutions most affected by the Horizon impasse.
The new ISPF
But we plan to go further. Today I’m announcing the first part of a package of additional funding for international research through the International Science Partnership Fund (ISPF).
This is alongside our commitment to deploy, if necessary, the £15 billion ringfenced funds for Horizon for alternative programs to further support strong international UK research.
As set out in July, this package of funding is structured around 4 key pillars.
The Flagship Fellowships (Early, Mid and Late-Stage Career).
The Technologies of Tomorrow and Industrial Innovation Challenges.
Global Challenge Collaborations.
And world class research infrastructure.
I want to stress that in pursuing these we are not closing the door on the Horizon negotiations. But simply honouring the commitment we made to UK researchers that we will ensure the money that we would have received through Horizon will not be lost to UK research.
The ISPF is designed to support research programs in themes and countries which align well with the UK’S Integrated Review.
That’s why, today, I am delighted to announce the launch of phase one of our International Science Partnerships Fund.
We will use this initial £119 million ISPF funding to support our scientists, researchers, and innovators to collaborate with colleagues around the world in tackling the great global research challenges of our time.
No country better fits that profile than Japan which is why I’ve come here today to announce it.
Few countries can match Japan when it comes to R+D.
Total expenditure (in 2020) on R+D £128 billion, 3.59% of GDP, 72% (£92 billion) from the private sector.
951,000 researchers, 5th in 2021 Nature Index (UK 4th!), 13th in Global Innovation Index (UK 4th).
World class universities, the second most Nobel Prizes in natural sciences including Manabe (modelling of earth’s climate) 2021, Yoshino (Lithium Ion Batteries) 2019, Honjo (Cancer) 2018, Ohsumi (autophage) 2016, Kajita (neutrinos) 2015, Omura (parasites) 2015, Amano and Akasaki (blue LED) 2014.
Nine Moonshot Programmes, £1 billion Strategic Innovation Program and WPI Centres.
And the UK and Japan have a long and distinguished history of research.
The UK is Japan’s fourth biggest research collaborator.
Japan is UK’s fourteenth biggest research collaborator.
UK / Japan research quality is 3.5 times the world average. That’s higher than our average with USA, Germany or China.
In medicine – it’s over 6.5 times the average!
In 2019 UK researchers are the fourth largest group of visiting researchers
The UK is the second most popular destination for Japanese researchers on mid to long term placements.
And we have a range of joint projects including Ai (recently agreed with my Colleague and co-chair of Council for Ai – Secretary of State Michelle Donellan). The next generation fighter platform. CoVID 19. Space Situational Awareness. Nuclear decommissioning. Regenerative medicine. And Marine sensor technology.
In the past two decades alone, we’ve seen the likes of Tim Peake and Yamazaki Naoko working together in the International Space Centre in the ice beneath Japanese barley sitting securely alongside British brassicas in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault…
…and, given where we are, it would be remiss of me not to mention again the human genome project, which we’ve seen complete its sequencing of the DNA shared by each and every one of us here today.
DNA science which was the key to discovering the Covid vaccine and stopping the coronavirus pandemic which threatened to put a stop to so much scientific collaboration, doing real damage to research, but also highlighted just how vital this collaboration is, as the foundation for a future where security and prosperity can be enjoyed by all.
Scientific collaboration between our two countries goes back centuries.
Almost 160 years ago, the Choshu five arrived in London after a 135-day journey.
Enrolling at University College London, under the mentorship of Alexander Williamson, these men embraced life in Victorian Britain and Bloomsbury’s burgeoning scientific scene.
When they returned to Japan, each of these ‘five fathers’ drew on what they learnt to transform their country with technology.
Inoue Masaru used his civil engineering education to become the founding president of the Japanese Board of Railways.
Yamao Yozo established the Imperial College of Engineering, Japan’s first institute of technology.
And Ito Hirobumi as the first Prime Minister of Japan, shaped the constitution of the Meiji era and remodelled the political, social, and economic life of a nation newly open to the world around it.
For much of the century and a half since, Japan has led the way… and the UK has benefitted.
On rail, the same transformative technology that powers the Shinkansen is driving forward change in Britain’s high-speed rail network.
On road, the lithium-ion battery brought to Japanese markets over three decades ago is now the cornerstone of our expanding electric vehicle industry.
On screen, Japanese calculators, cameras, and computers kick-started our digital revolution – and continue to represent the cutting edge in our tech market today.
And in our ears, digital recording has changed the way generations of British citizens listen to one another, whether with turntables, Walkmans, CDs, Blue Ray or the revival of cassettes.
In the past century, we’ve each succeeded in large part thanks to the strength of our collaboration…
…underpinned by our common commitment to academic freedom and a shared belief in the value of bottom up, peer-reviewed, and foundational research, supported by state-of-the-art facilities and adopted by excellent industries.
Just take our first-class universities.
From Cambridge to Kyoto, we are working together to lead top quality research in regenerative medicine, following our joint research call in 2020.
This year, we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of RENKEI, a consortium of universities who are improving collaboration between our young academics.
The RENKEI winter school, hosted by Kyoto University, will establish a new UK-Japan network of climate change early career researchers.
But we both know that it’s not just about what goes on inside academia – it’s about getting research out there in the world, driving up growth and unlocking new sectors, industries, jobs, and skills.
Both through established industries leading and embracing innovation, and venture-backed start-ups and spin-outs.
Because it’s our innovative enterprises who are leading the way in quantum, in Ai, in biotechnology and in fusion.
I am looking forward to meeting Kyoto Fusioneering later this week, an exciting spinout who are leading the development of advanced fusion reactor technologies here in Japan – technologies which could completely transform the way we generate our energy in future.
In the UK, we have launched our own fusion strategy, with a world-first pro-innovation regulatory framework published in summer 2022 and plans for the world’s first Industrial fusion plant via UKAEA Spherical Topomak.
And – like our universities – our enterprises are joining up, too.
Just take Amphibio and Azul Energy, who – with funding from UKRI and NEDO – are partnering to combine zero-waste, automated digital 3D knitting technology and metal-air batteries to manufacture seamless, safe, and sustainable waterproof clothing.
Nowhere is this story of collaboration stronger than in space.
Last year UKSA and JAXA marked a milestone moment by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation.
But we haven’t just heard words; we’ve seen action, too.
Whether it’s our universities and agencies getting together to tackle space junk…
…or our businesses like Astroscale, a Japan-UK collaboration whose ELSA-d mission has done truly pioneering work to demonstrate the core technologies necessary for debris docking and removal.
I have no doubt, then, that ISPF funding will be a game-changer for scientific collaboration between our countries.
But ISPF is only part of the picture for the UK and Japan.
We hope to announce more research calls to come.
And we’ve agreed to work together on open joint research programmes…
…to develop targeted strategic research programmes exploring our space, marine, and polar environments, providing a critical boost to our shared decarbonisation efforts…
…and to improve our collaboration in digital and aerospace…
And it’s not just our researchers. We’re also committed to supporting the shared infrastructure which they need to succeed.
I’m proud today to announce that we’re investing £15.5 million for the construction of the Hyper-K neutrino project, on top of the £4.2 million we invested during the research and development phase.
This is a pioneering project, the likes of which the world has never seen.
Buried under a mountain to avoid interference from cosmic rays, Hyper-K will be a ‘microscope’ to unveil the mysteries of the elusive neutrino, the most abundant (but perhaps the least understood) matter particle in the universe.
But it will also be a ‘telescope’ for observing the sources of these neutrinos, from the Sun and supernovas to black holes and dark matter.
Hyper-K could help us to answer the fundamental questions which remain for the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the way we understand the basic building blocks of our universe.
And we know that it will support scientific research at every level, and in every participating country, including the UK, where our very own Professors Francesca Di Lodovico and Dave Wark are leading ground-breaking neutrino research.
And I am delighted that we in the UK are doing our bit to get it up and running.
New British Council grants program called Reconnect to help boost Indo -Asia Pacific academic collaborations
That’s why – with the legacy of the Choshu five still with us – I am also delighted to announce a new grants programme called ‘Reconnect’, funded by the British Council, to help teams of academics across the Indo-Pacific region to join up following the disruption of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Today, the British Council is opening a call for proposals structured around our shared priorities, across Synthetic Biology, Ocean science, Healthy ageing, Clean Energy, Advanced materials and Quantum computing.
Over the next 3 days I’m honoured and delighted to be visiting and meeting some of the top people and research institutes across this R+D powerhouse economy: Keio University, Presidents and Executives of Japanese Universities, JAXA Tsukuba Space Centre, J-PARC Japan Proton Accelerator Complex, JAEA Naraha Center for Remote Control / Nuclear Robotics Technology Development, Kyoto Fusioneering, Minister Takaichi, Prof Ueyama, State Minister Nakatani, Minister Nagaoka, Prof Hashimoto and Tokyo Uni Edge Capital Partners.
Over these 23 visits and meetings I hope we can deepen our two nations’ longstanding history of science and research collaboration, identify ways we can extend our work for mutual benefit and promote greater academic and investment collaborations and exchange.
But something else too. To send a clear message that global science, research, technology and innovation can’t be dominated by just China (or the USA) but requires international partnerships rooted in shared values and a shared commitment to “scientia” as a force for good in the world.
International scientific collaboration demands mutual respect for some key frameworks that underpin science free speech, the rule of law, open science, respect for intellectual property, research security and integrity which I’m delighted and grateful Japan has agreed to prioritise in the G7 Science Summit in Sendai in Japan in May.
That just as our two great nations deepen our collaboration for military defence and security, so we will also deepen our collaboration in science, research, technology and innovation for peaceful, sustainable geopolitical development and soft power.
By working together in robust defence of our shared commitment to the values of democracy, peace, freedom and mutuality which underpin our shared humanity we can both make the world a safer place for our children, and our countries more prosperous and secure.
George Freeman MP is the Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation at the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).