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Last updated on Tuesday 20 Dec 2022 at 10:28pm
Ahead of the autumn statement on 17 November, we are urging the Chancellor to recommit to uplifting investment on research and development. This long-term investment will ensure that universities can continue to support growth and prosperity across the whole of the UK.
We have joined with more than 100 business organisations, education leaders and individual researchers in writing to the Chancellor urging the government not to cut research and development (R&D) funding. This funding is the engine of growth, enabling universities to attract investment and talent, make world-leading discoveries, generate knowledge, and create and nurture new, innovative businesses and jobs across the UK.
This call follows our recently published report ‘Our Universities: Generating Growth and Opportunity’ highlighting the ways in which universities can play a bigger role in generating economic growth by supporting jobs and prosperity, boosting skills and opportunities, and building pride in place and local communities.
University research excellence is also well-distributed geographically across the whole of the UK, with recent assessments showing over 80% of submitted research activity to be world-leading or internationally excellent.
University-led research and infrastructure lays the foundation for new innovations, and universities are directly involved in the creation of new businesses as well as future-facing jobs:
Investment in R&D supports universities to work with local and national businesses through consultancy or contract research, providing specialist advice and access to the latest facilities and equipment to develop innovative products.
This fiscal event also comes at a time of continued uncertainty over the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, and EU structural funds coming to an end this year. We are urging government to secure association to Horizon Europe and protect the budget set aside to fund alternatives and for urgent action to avoid the loss of hundreds of vital growth-boosting research and innovation projects at risk, which will see their EU funding end this year.
Following the last austerity era, there were suggestions that the UK’s research output may have lost momentum in terms of international competitiveness. We do not want to lose our momentum again at a time when growth is a key strategic priority.
Public funding for university research and innovation is key to driving long-term economic growth and prosperity across the UK. Certainty around public funding will also help leverage the private investment needed to achieve the government’s ambition. Ensuring this funding is stable and long-term creates the conditions for effective collaboration and high-risk innovation activities leading to transformational breakthroughs – such as the Covid-19 vaccine.
Universities supported by increased investment in research will continue to generate national growth, boost local economies, and improve lives. The world-leading development of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme would simply not have been possible without university innovation backed by significant public investment. Only a stable funding environment for R&D can replicate our global success in tackling the pandemic for other critical fields in public health.
Professor Sir Jonathan Van Tam
Pro Vice-Chancellor for Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham
Universities are knowledge generators. And that knowledge is incredibly important - it has the potential to improve and even save lives. Every day, university researchers are working on expanding our knowledge and solving problems - from scientists looking at solutions to climate change or to humanities researchers deepening our understanding of current and past societies. The expert knowledge that is generated and shared by universities gives us the tools to meet the challenges facing us - to find the best possible solutions. To do this work, universities rely on government support. It’s vital that the government sticks to its promises on funding for Research & Development.
Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, author and broadcaster
If the UK wants to keep pace with its competitors, it needs to take R&D seriously. The UK’s researchers and innovators make an invaluable contribution to our economy, and at a time of economic pain, this isn’t the time to take the rug out from under their feet.
“Innovation happens when universities and businesses work together – developing the products of the future and creating high-skilled jobs. This needs to be underpinned by a stable, supportive funding environment.
Professor Paul Boyle
Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University and Chair of the Universities UK Research and Innovation Policy Network
Investment in research and innovation plays a critical role in delivering prosperity, health and wealth for the nation. With so many challenges facing us, it is vital that the government does all it can to support UK research and innovation, backing the full breadth and versatility of talent across all of the disciplines.
Chief Executive of the British Academy
The UK’s incredible capability in research and innovation is a magnet for talent and a driver for growth. We hear from businesses that the strength of R&D and our great universities are key factors in making the UK a place they want to invest. Now is the time for the Government to lead with R&D to deliver growth, wellbeing and prosperity
Professor Sarah Main
Executive Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)
Universities support growth across the whole of the UK in a range of ways. Investment in foundational research, and research infrastructure, is crucial in developing the innovative products and services, that drive new businesses and good jobs and in turn leads to economic growth. More flexible, Quality Related (QR) funding provides the UK universities carrying out the most world-leading and internationally excellent research with a guaranteed income to carry out innovative research, without the bureaucracy of periodic proposals for funding.
Investment in R&D also supports universities to work with local and national businesses through consultancy or contract research, providing specialist advice and access to the latest facilities and equipment to develop innovative products. In 2020-21 alone, universities had 75,500 contracts providing businesses with consultancy, and 17,000 to provide facilities and equipment, to develop innovative products and services.
Space Park Leicester is a world-leading cluster for innovative research, enterprise and education in Space and Earth observation. It was formed in collaboration with the University of Leicester, industry partners and the local community. It is forecast to create 2,500 jobs and provide £750m gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy.
The Biomedical Cluster will build on Dundee’s existing expertise in biomedical sciences with an innovation hub to house spinout companies, and a multidisciplinary R&D centre to develop innovative and disruptive technologies for the healthcare industry. With initial funding of £25m from the Scottish Government, it is predicted that the cluster will bring £190m Net Public Value (NPV) to the local economy and 800 new biomedical jobs by 2053.
The Hertfordshire Science Partnership is an innovative collaboration between the University of Hertfordshire and Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership with a focus on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It leverages the state-of-the-art facilities and academic expertise at the university to boost the dynamic agri-technology and life sciences sector in Hertfordshire. So far, the partnership has brought eight new products to market, established 20 research contracts giving local SMEs access to the university’s facilities and expertise, 30 new research collaborations, supported 40 businesses, and helped launch two spin-out companies. The partnership is also delivering training for 30 highly skilled graduate researchers, supporting a pipeline of new talent and vital skills for the local industry workforce.
If the UK is to maintain its plans to increase public investment in R&D, the government’s own research suggests the sector will need at least an additional 150,000 researchers and technicians by 2030. Our success in this ambition will rely on an immigration system that facilitates and enables international students, researchers, and technicians to come to the UK.
The UK is often seen as ‘punching above its weight’ in research and innovation and this is backed up by its recent performance in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework assessment and in global rankings. However, the UK continues to fall behind its competitors in terms of investment in R&D, and without long-term and stable investment – the UK will fall behind.
We understand that budgets will be under great pressure in coming months, but we strongly urge the government to honour their previous commitment to uplifting investment in research and innovation. This commitment, alongside a stable and sustainable funding environment will be crucial to driving the long-term economic growth and increases in productivity which the government seeks.
As the examples featured above demonstrate, it is vital that we invest in research and innovation now rather than return when the fiscal situation improves. If the government wants to boost growth, it must take steps to make progress on the previous government’s targets for R&I investment. Many post-graduate researchers who carry out this important research activity are already concerned about cost-of-living pressures and any cuts to their funding could also exacerbate this pressure.
We commend the government’s current ambitions on R&D and the UK’s universities have significant and diverse roles to play in supporting them. To maximise universities’ contributions, however, they need to be operating in a supportive environment, that incentivises partnership and collaboration between universities, businesses and industry, building on the key role of universities as anchor institutions in their communities.