Educational Crisis? UK Government Ministers Lacking in Science Experience

15th Mar 2024
Educational Crisis? UK Government Ministers Lacking in Science Experience

We wouldn’t expect government ministers to be rocket scientists or propulsion engineers, but those at the helm of the government’s science, innovation and space related ministries should at the very least have some scientific background. Surely.

Space ambitions but lack of education

Space is a complex and expensive area that requires a wealth of talent and a lot of money. It is a sector that countries around the world are prioritising to accommodate the ever-changing world and the rapid technological progress being made by mankind. It would even be fair to say that many of the countries developing a space programme will have it as one of their top priorities, particularly as it plays a huge role in Defence and Environment; two areas that are under in the public’s gaze. So, you would expect the very best, most experienced government ministers to be placed in charge of it.

Amanda Solloway and her marketing background

And yet, who remembers Amanda Solloway? She was given a huge science brief by the current Conservative government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation. That made her a key player in the government’s plans to make the UK a world-beating space nation. And yet, a brief look at Amanda’s CV shows a background wholly unsuited to such a mammoth role. This was a role she filled from February 2020 to September 2021.

According to her Wikipedia entry she started off her working life at the checkout in an off licence (retailer of alcohol for non-UK readers) and then went on to work at a Sainsbury’s supermarket for 13 years. Other roles saw her working for a clothing company and also for the UK charities, Help the Aged and Save the Children in an HR role.

Now, we certainly wouldn’t expect her to be a Rocket Scientist, but we fail to see where any transferable skills gained from her many years as a supermarket worker could be applied to the complex space sector.

Andrew Griffith and Solar System mess

Fast forward to 2024 and yet another “new” Science Minister finds themselves in the demanding role. Andrew Griffith is the current Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation, a role he has held since November 2023.

Mr. Griffith’s background is as an accountant, so we can at least see that he should have a firm grasp of the huge amounts involved in operating a government space programme. But, it’s difficult to see any other background experience that would make him a suitable candidate for such a role. 

Andrew Griffith MP, while responsible for Space, famously confused Mars with the Sun and got Jupiter and Saturn mixed up during a walkabout at the Science Museum in London. He was savagely mocked by the media.

Michelle Donelan and no science experience, either

His colleague, Michelle Donelan MP, currently serving as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, is a career politician who spent a brief time in various marketing roles in the private sector including stints at Marie Claire magazine and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Here we have yet another unusual candidate for such an important government role.

It has been long said that government ministers should have relevant life experience that would make them suitable for any role they are placed into, and yet it seems the current UK government is doing the exact opposite, which poses the question “why?”.

Are relevant government ministers too much to ask for?

If the UK is to be taken seriously on the world stage, then it is crucial that they demonstrate competence at the government level and show that they have the necessary experience and the determination to succeed – and knowing their planets would show some basic understanding of their brief. Because as things currently stand, it’s the private sector that’s providing the talent and experience and who are the driving force behind the progress made to date.

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