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Government launches science and innovation strategy

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has published the UK Government’s Science and Innovation Strategy, which sets out priorities for investment and support in science, research and innovation over the next 10 years.

The strategy document, has higher education at its heart, with a drive for more graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This includes a plan to return some of the estimated 100,000 unemployed or economically inactive female STEM graduates to industry following career breaks.

Funding commitments, some of which were announced in part in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, include:

  • Investment of £5.9 billion in the scientific infrastructure between 2016 and 2021, with £2.9 billion towards large capital projects such as the new Polar research Ship and Square Kilometre Array, and £3bn for individual capital and maintenance projects in universities and institutes - more than half of it through competition
  • £95 million for European Space Agency programmes, including Britain’s lead role in the next European Rover mission to Mars (part of the “grand challenges” funding)

Stability and commitment to the core research principles will be maintained through the 'dual support' system of funding council and Research Councils, but further efficiencies will be found. Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, is to review how the Research Councils should evolve on their "firm foundations".

The government says it recognises that as well as capital investment, staffing, running and maintaining the scientific infrastructure needs adequate resources and says it "will give full consideration" to this in the next Spending Review - after the General Election.

Commenting on the Strategy, Greg Clark, Universities, Science and Cities Minister said:
“Science and innovation will play an important part in defining the UK’s place in the world in the 21st century. This strategy builds on the great strengths of British science and enterprise and will make sure the UK is the best place in the world to do science and grow an innovative business.”

Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: ‘We welcome the strategy’s long-term commitment to investing in research infrastructure and facilities to support excellent research, as set out in the capital roadmap [Note 2]. Signalling this commitment now will give universities and colleges the vital stability they need to support research priorities into the longer term. As the Government works through the detail of how capital funding for universities will be allocated, it will be important to recognise the clear wish expressed by the sector that funding for university core infrastructure is maintained or increased.’

The Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Dr Sarah Main, said: "At best, I was hoping for a visionary ten year strategy with the authority and support of all of government. This strategy is reassuring, but falls short on a number of specific commitments, such as a commitment to ring-fence the science budget or to set long-term goals for science investment."

Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of the new universities think tank million+ said: “Recent million+ analysis revealed in 2012-13 twelve higher education institutions received 50 per cent of quality-related research funding. Following the announcement within the strategy for a review of the UK research councils in order to assess how they can support and invest in research in the most effective ways, we hope this hyper-concentration will be addressed as part of this review.

“million+ has led calls for the strengths of universities across the UK to be recognised and utilised and therefore strongly supports the commitment by Government to ensure excellence is rewarded wherever it is found. However, there are still many questions to be answered with a number of consultations commissioned and so a full picture remains unclear until Summer 2015.

“It is a welcome step that Government admits that policies have not been fair in terms of regional investment and acknowledges the successful role of university-business research partnerships as key drivers for innovation. This needs to be followed up by policies that place science, research and innovation at the centre of local and regional growth strategies.”


Get the full picture from HEi-knowBriefing Report 225