The 2020 Policy Forum for Wales

Posted on May 21, 2020   by Lauren Kerr

In April, Lauren Kerr, PhD candidate at Cardiff University virtually attended the Policy Forum for Wales. The event discussed how Welsh policy-makers aim to attract and retain a strong workforce, and the role research plays in this. Here, Lauren discusses the event. 

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On 29 April 2020, I had a unique experience that I don’t believe I will have again soon; I attended a virtual conference on the topic of Policy Forum for Wales called ‘Next steps for science and innovation policy in Wales’.

Following opening remarks by Professor Tom Crick, the first session of the day focused on the progress being made to attract and retain a skilled workforce in Wales, and comprised of talks by representatives from the Learned Society of Wales, Bangor University, and the Welsh Contact Centre Forum.

Martin Pollard, Chief Executive of the Learned Society of Wales, was the first panellist to speak, bringing to attention the high quality of the research that is already produced in Wales – Welsh publications are cited more often than the world’s average, have the highest proportion of four-star impact in the UK, and are good value for money with more citations per $1 million of research investment. This brought to my attention how underappreciated Welsh research is, but also how it can be used to attract talent to Wales.

Professor David Thomas of Bangor University, former Director of Sêr Cymru National Research Network for Low Carbon Energy and the Environment, spoke of Welsh universities bringing undergraduates from far and wide, and the importance of keeping these newly trained researchers in Wales. The Sêr Cymru strategy from the Welsh Government attracts big names in research to Welsh universities and provides funding for ground-breaking research which, in turn, will draw in a highly skilled workforce.

The final speaker of this session was Sandra Busby, Managing Director at the Welsh Contact Centre Forum. Sandra is involved in the Welsh Data Science Graduate Programme, a highly desirable scheme which provides an MSc and the opportunity to work with multiple companies, and attracts many applicants to Wales. Sandra stressed the importance of promoting Wales as an appealing site for global companies to invest in and set up head offices.

During the session it was sustained that there is a need to encourage Welsh students to remain and work in Wales – many grow up in the country and then move away to study and work. It was mentioned that Ireland runs an annual competition called the Young Scientist Exhibition. This competition supports and encourages school students to have a hands-on experience with science. This sort of event would also be beneficial to Welsh high school students and could inspire those with a passion for science to stay and work in Wales, where they will be supported in their career development.

As a PhD student conducting research in Wales, I found it heartening to hear what plans are in place to attract and develop the skilled workforce needed for the advancement of Welsh science.