April 15, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Last week, I travelled to UCL to meet Imran Khan, head of CaSE. Imran is an alumnus of the Imperial College Science Communication MSc course and was previously a researcher for former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris. As Director of CaSE, Imran deals with a whole range of issues surrounding science policy. Today, Imran talks about the history of his organisation, as well as some of the tactics they use to help get their message across…

AP:       So Imran, what exactly is CaSE?

CaSE is the Campaign for Science and Engineering. We were founded back in 1986 as an organisation called ‘Save British Science’, which was essentially founded by a group of academics concerned about the levels of science funding in the UK from Government. It’s evolved since then into what you see before you: two small offices here in Bloomsbury and we’ve got four staff — two part-time and two full-time.

AP:       And, what exactly is it that CaSE does?

We do a mixture of lobbying, advocacy and campaigning. Which of those three words we actually use depends on a number of things, including who we’re talking to and how pissed off we are at the time. Essentially, our work involves trying to get policy makers, decision makers and politicians to take decisions which improve the health of science and engineering in the UK.

AP:       Okay, so what sort of methods do you use in your attempts to do this?

Well, we’ve got two broad methods for getting our message across:

The first one is talking to politicians directly. This involves going into parliament and talking to MPs — particularly people on select committees and influential parliamentarians. For example: we have meetings with Andrew Miller, who’s the current chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, and we’ve also got a meeting with Adrian Bailey coming up, who’s Chair of the Business Innovations and Skills Select Committee. It’s really all about making sure that those MPs are empowered within the House of Commons to try and hold the Government to account on science and engineering issues.

However, we also go and talk to the ministers directly. We speak to people like David Willetts, the science minister, Nick Gibb, the schools minister, and also their teams of civil servants — so a lot of our time is actually spent in Whitehall rather than Westminster. We really try and get to the bottom of the issues these people are facing and try to understand where they’re coming from. In doing so — rather than trying to oppose what they’re doing — we often find ourselves actually on their side. For example, during the spending review last year, we were ultimately trying to influence what the Treasury was doing; trying to make sure that George Osborne and Danny Alexander made the right decisions for the health of science and engineering. In turn, this meant that we had to help David Willetts was with his arguments to the Treasury. Of course, he’s a Government minister as well, so it’s an interesting dynamic from our pespective.

The second broad area for us is working to influence the media. The media is really, really critical to what we do. In fact, Save British Science was founded following the placement of an advert in The Times newspaper — so we’ve got a really close relationship with journalists going right the way back to our founding.

Today, if we’re trying to influence Government decisions, we try to get stories placed in the newspapers. Last year, when we were attempting to change the Government’s policy on immigration, we placed dozens of articles in the press. The Government had plans to limit the number of immigrants coming into the UK and we felt that this had the potential to have really devastating consequences for science and engineering. One of the big things was write a letter to The Times, which we got eight Nobel laureates to sign, including: Sir Paul Nurse, Sir Harry Kroto, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. That letter was sent just about a few days after Geim and Novoselov had won their Nobel Prizes and it made it onto the front page of a national paper. It really helped to change the mood music and, while that was happening, we were busy meeting up with various people from The Home Office. You could tell that, as soon as the letter was published, the people at The Home Office really changed tack and were suddenly far more willing to engage with our arguments.