Five recommendations for the government to support UK research

Posted on April 23, 2013 by

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Paul Nurse was on the Today programme with Vince Cable yesterday morning to launch a new report from the four UK National Academies – The Royal Society, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences – making the case for investing in research to drive UK economic growth.

This is very timely as government departments are in the midst of putting together their bids for government funds as the Treasury takes forward its latest spending round. The Treasury plans to announce their decisions on 26 June when we will find out  how much each government department will be getting and how this will be shared out across their spending responsibilities.

Some areas including health and education are protected and won’t be subject to cuts. But medical research charities alongside everyone funding research in the UK are particularly concerned about the decisions over the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills budgets which does not have its funding protected.

What does the report say?

Fuelling prosperity: Research and innovation as drivers of UK growth and competitiveness makes five recommendations to government to keep pace with our international competitors and ensure research in the UK can drive UK growth:

  • Builds a stable ten year investment framework for research, innovation and  skills. This should sit at the heart of its emerging industrial strategy and plans for growth.
  • Commits to increased investment in research and innovation to keep pace with other leading scientific nations.
  • Secures the ringfencing of the science budget and continues to increase investment in research capital.
  • Ensures that research continues to be at the heart of evidence based policy making across Whitehall.
  • Creates a world class research and innovation environment that is attractive to talent, collaboration and investment from industry and from overseas.

The report itself puts together lots of great facts to demonstrate the value of research to the UK and our global standing. It compares how we are doing against our nearest competitors – pointing out that the UK’s public funding for R&D falls below that made by many of our global partners as a percentage of GDP (0.57% of GDP in the UK in 2011, in comparison to 0.85% in Germany, or 9.2% in the USA). This is the focus of the latest campaign by Science is Vital who are calling for the Government to increase research and development spending to at least 0.8 per cent of GDP – the G8 average – to enable us to compete more effectively with the leading economies of the world.

The report welcomes the UK Life Sciences strategy, touches on some of the innovative collaborations that UK funders are adopting to exploit new areas, and touches on new ways to measure research outcomes and inform future research strategies such as Researchfish who many AMRC members are beginning to work with.

The report also emphasises the importance of the UK’s diverse research base and the need to keep funding to maintain this and then goes on to outline its five recommendations to keep the UK a world leader in research.

What is AMRC doing to engage with the spending round?

We have been gathering evidence which we have been sharing with government departments, holding a series of workshops with BIS to better understand the interplay between public, charity and industry funders of research in the UK.

The APPG Medical Research is holding a breakfast in Parliament in May bringing Sir Paul Nurse – President of the Royal Society and Chief Executive of the new Francis Crick Institute, Harpal Kumar – chief executive of Cancer Research UK and Patrick Vallance – Senior Vice President of Drug Discovery at GlaxoSmithKline together to talk about the value of medical research to the UK’s future.

This spending round is for a relatively short term – we’re expecting a full-scale comprehensive spending review in the next Parliament – the next general election is due in May 2015. The current spending round is slightly smaller, reviewing the current spending allocations and agreeing budgets for 2015-16.

We are working with our members and government departments to gather information to inform this current spending round and for the longer term, looking ahead at what information would be helpful ahead of the comprehensive spending review. This includes working closely with MRC to better understand the impact of our funding and how this builds on and leverages other funders – as many of our members are now using Researchfish to capture the outcomes of the research they fund, this will allow us to better track and understand the impact our funding of research has in scientific discovery. We can then share this with our donors whose donations enable this, and the government.

Posted in: Policy