Protect the UK’s global excellence in KEC
PraxisUnico is cautiously optimistic to hear today’s announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) that the science budget will be protected in real terms, and that cuts to the BIS budget will be less than anticipated. However, we are in no doubt that the Spending Review will still bring change and challenges for our members and sector stakeholders and we will analyse their full impact as details emerge. Those responsible for shaping the new landscape must ensure that progress made in developing a vital part of the research and innovation system is not lost in larger changes that are made.
In her review of university-business relationships, Dame Ann Dowling highlighted the complexity of the research and innovation landscape and rationalisation of structures and funding schemes are almost certain to result from today’s Comprehensive Spending Review as the impact of budget cuts and budget re-allocation trickles down from BIS.
The UK ranks 2nd in the Global Innovation Index (GII) and in 2015 was singled out for the quality of its universities and ranked in the top three for ‘innovation quality’. The GII is just one demonstrator of the value of the investment made by the government in university knowledge exchange in the last two decades, principally through the HEFCE and UK Research Councils.
Business leaders also agree that both science and innovation should continue to be supported as “vital to Britain’s global ambition”. In a recent article in the Independent the outgoing director of the CBI, Sir John Cridland, commented that whilst protecting science funding was vital so too was protection of spending on innovation “to exploit commercially what’s going on in research councils and universities”. We welcome continued investment in the new Catapult network to support research development and application, but the change from grants to loans at Innovate UK could increase risk for companies looking to invest in innovation.
The preservation of the dual support system is vital in preserving the successful research and innovation landscape in the UK built around universities, PSREs and innovative businesses, as confirmed in the recent higher education green paper and Nurse review. The importance of great “discovery science” as characterised by Sir Paul Nurse is fundamental to the success of this endeavour. Dual support has been effective not just in delivering excellent research, but in delivering an increase in knowledge exchange, impact, enterprise, and research commercialisation. A combination of incentives including HEIF, Catalyst awards, REF impact, RCUK pathways to impact, Impact acceleration accounts and other, specialised, initiatives such as support for social enterprise have been essential in creating a collaborative delivery culture between universities and external partners that did not exist before.
In this time of change, therefore, we draw attention to the efforts of universities and their funders in building capability and support structures for effective knowledge exchange and commercialisation. HEIF funding is now seen to be delivering almost £10 for every £1 invested, with significant monetary and non-monetary benefits to external partners; while universities have invested in a professional and skilled cohort to identify, develop and sustain vital external relationships that lead to some of the most innovative products and services in the world. Through HEIF universities also provide essential support, training and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and SMEs to exposure them to novel research outputs and stimulate new collaborations.
UK knowledge exchange and commercialisation is the envy of the world: we will be working with stakeholders in the post-CSR landscape to ensure that this expertise is retained and deployed for the continuing success of UK knowledge exchange and innovation.