Our response to The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into engineering biology

Jul 2, 2024

We’ve responded to The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into engineering biology.

 

Our Response

1. We recommend that the government enhance the current funding models by transitioning from episodic funding to a more sustainable, long-term financial commitment to supporting and furthering technical skills and talent. This adjustment is crucial to providing consistent support for the development and retention of technical skills and talent, thereby securing a sustainable future for the UK’s scientific and technological workforce. For instance, skills and talent investments such as BBSRC Discovery Fellowships 2023, can be targeted towards UK’s technical talent within engineering biology.

2. We recommend that degree apprenticeships and T Level placements take place within higher education and research institutions. Given the rapidly evolving, specialised, and costly equipment utilised in this field, we recommend that degree apprenticeships and T Level placements take place within higher education and research institutions, where students can gain hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies. This approach would not only empower the next generation of technicians but also ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of innovation in engineering biology. We appreciate that the government’s ‘National Vision for Engineering Biology’ insightfully recognises the importance of technical expertise; however, we have observed a gap in the current offerings of Institutes of Technology, particularly concerning specialised courses in engineering biology.

3. Develop institutional policies to provide more stable and secure long-term contracts for technical staff to improve job security. One of the most pressing challenges faced by academic institutions is the retention of highly specialised technicians. Moreover, within research groups, there is an ongoing challenge in maintaining a continuity of skills and knowledge over time.

4. Incorporating Technicians into Research Grant Budgeting. Implement a standard practice that ensures the inclusion of technicians’ salaries and development opportunities in the budgeting of research grants to acknowledge their essential role in the research process.

5. Create clear and structured career pathways for technicians, including opportunities for advancement and professional development, to reduce turnover and incentivise long-term commitment to the institution.

6. Standardise acknowledgment practices for technical staff to ensure appropriate recognition of their contributions in published research, including co-authorship where significant contributions to the work have been made.

7. Allocate resources for in-depth, ongoing training programmes for technicians to ensure continuous knowledge transfer, upskilling and retention, as well as the maintenance and advancement of technical skills within institutions. As the technological landscape in engineering biology rapidly evolves, investment in training the current technical workforce, who are also our future workforce is essential.

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Author: Farheen Akhtar, Policy and Engagement Manager