Farewell 2014, hello REF, Science & Innovation Policy and annual reviews...

The end of 2014 was busy for science and innovation policy watchers.

The Autumn Statement was the one that everyone was waiting for, but to keep us busy the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) published a review of the Catapult Network at Innovate2014, in early November. It was a positive report for a relatively new initiative, recommending more resources additional sector hubs. Catapults came up again in the House of Commons Business Innovation and Skills Committee’s review of Business-University collaboration.

The report also welcomed the initiative but showed a more cautious view of further resourcing. The Committee had heard from industry and university leaders to produce a body of evidence that demonstrates the good work that is being done across the UK in knowledge exchange (broadly defined). The recommendations were useful pointers for future thinking and resource questions. It was well received by industry (including the CBI) and university groups (such as UUK) alike.

Unfortunately the report was released just two days before the Autumn Statement and attention quickly turned to the Chancellor’s statements around science and innovation. A companion piece to the Business-University Collaboration report is the BIS annual review of Knowledge Transfer Activities in PSREs. PraxisUnico welcomed this report and its findings that PSREs are delivering significant impact, based on the metrics used. But we would’ve liked to have seen a wider measure of impact for PSREs, similar to REF for universities, as it is important to recognise that some PSREs have significant impact that is not easily measured. For instance NHS innovation hubs and their impact on health-care delivery; cost savings in the NHS; improved safety and better patient outcomes.

You may’ve missed a report by HEFCE issued early in December reviewing the impact of QR in English HEIs. It draws interesting conclusions about QR and ‘third stream interactions’ to which we should pay attention as university funding is debated in the next spending review. If you haven’t got research stars, or a large local R&D presence, then a university may struggle to attract industry attention. This is perhaps not surprising to those working in the sector. But how will the REF results bear on this element of university activity?

PraxisUnico board member and Director of Academic Liaison at GSK, Malcolm Skingle, was involved in the REF assessment as a user of university research outputs both in the UK and the US. His feeling that “the impact agenda helps makes the UK an attractive place for global industries like the pharmaceutical industry to invest in R&D” was seemingly borne out by the finding that  44% of impacts were judged outstanding (4*) with a further 40% judged very considerable (3*). Of course, there is a lot of dissection of what lies behind the figures, but on balance it returned a very healthy view of the UK's research sector.

Finally, on the Friday before Christmas, the S&I Strategy paper was quietly released. In terms of spending decisions, it reinforced announcements made earlier in December by the Chancellor but otherwise is essentially a signpost for a future spending review; emphasising the importance of the science budget but not making any promises. In general, this was met meet with a sense of disappointment as it leaves a degree of uncertainty which is unsettling for our sector.

A far as KE activities specifically go, we know the Government has committed £113 million for HEIF in 2015-16 from the Science Budget and in the light of an upcoming election it is difficult for the detail of knowledge exchange funding to be explored, but we hope that the priorities of the next Government and the outcomes of the subsequent Comprehensive Spending Review reflect the value of investment and current activity recognised in the BIS Committee report, HEFCE’s QR investigation, and the REF. PraxisUnico will be continuing to work with stakeholders and our member network to promote research commercialisation activities, their success and impact, and the importance of funding to underpin them.


Review of the Catapult Network, 05 November 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/catapult-centres-hauser-review-recommendations

Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’ Business-University Collaboration’ 01 Dec 2014 http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-innovation-and-skills/inquiries/parliament-2010/business-university-collaboration/

Autumn Statement, 05 Dec 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/autumn-statement-documents

BIS 7th Annual Review of KE in PSREs, 03 Dec 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/knowledge-transfer-in-public-sector-research-seventh-annual-survey

‘A Review of QR Funding in English HEIS’ HEFCE, 09 Dec 2014 http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2014/news98947.html

‘Our Plan for Growth: science and innovation’ 19 Dec 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/our-plan-for-growth-science-and-innovation