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Tory think tank expands remit to science

The Conservative Technology Forum, a Conservative Party think tank, will from now on also cover science in an attempt to breathe new life into its activities.

The think tank, renamed the Conservative Science and Technology Forum, was relaunched at a Conservative Party conference fringe event in Manchester on 2 October. The session was hosted by Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, along with former minister David Willetts, Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford and the CSTF chairman Andrew Henderson.

The CSTF was created in 1978 as the Conservative Computer Forum and renamed Conservative Technology Forum in 2011. Even after the rebranding, its focus remained on developing policies in computing-related areas such as financial technology and cybersecurity.

But from now on, the CSTF will also explore how Brexit will affect science, how women are represented in academia, and how to better engage with scientists. According to Henderson, the forum will look forward and advise Conservative politicians on science and technology topics that it expects to be important in the next 10 to 15 years.

Jack Matthews, a geologist and research fellow at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, was behind the relaunch. He said he wanted to create a science policy group within the party and was advised to pitch his idea to Henderson.

“We are stepping up now with the rebrand. We are realising that we need not just to talk to the parliamentary group; there are lots of opportunities out there,” he said. “The main priority for me over the next year is to get our name out and to ensure academia knows that there is a place for them within the Conservative Party.”

The conference kicked off with prime minister Theresa May announcing she would freeze tuition fees at £9,250 in a bid to attract younger voters. She also said her government would raise the repayment threshold from £21,000 to £25,000.

Maddalaine Ansell, the chief executive of the University Alliance group of business-focused universities, welcomed the move to raise the threshold. She described it as “the fairest option of the many potential changes to the student finance system”.

In a keynote speech on 2 October, chancellor Philip Hammond announced £300 million to “future-proof” the railway network in the north of England. The money will be used to ensure HS2 will link faster trains with the forthcoming Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Rail projects.

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight