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CaSE in 2018 – celebrating success and looking to the future

05 Dec 2018

Executive Director Dr Sarah Main gives her report on CaSE’s activities at the 2018 AGM, hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry


The mission of CaSE is to ensure the UK has the skills, funding and policies to enable science and engineering to thrive. We have a growing membership that supports us in that mission: one hundred and fifteen organisations, fourteen of which are new to us this year, and around 600 individuals, from across academia, industry, learned societies and research charities. Those members collectively employ 380,000 people in the UK, and our industry and charity members invest around £43bn a year globally in R&D. CaSE has had a very successful year. With their help, we have made a big impact in a number of areas that are critical to our mission. Thanks to our members for giving us their support, sharing evidence, shaping our positions and collaborating to create common messages to help us achieve our aims.

Challenging times

The environment in which we work is turbulent.

Politics has been dominated by Brexit, with the year since our last AGM in November 2017 forming the meaty part, the central 12 months of the Article 50 process. Politics has been turbulent and combative, often on the same side – illustrating how Brexit has pervaded party lines. The scale and longevity of political disputes have brought home to me how resilient government is made to be in the UK – toppling a leader is no mean feat – and how complex the navigation of each political move to secure an outcome that might be close to one’s starting intentions.

A referendum vote is naturally divisive – you ask a ‘yes / no’ question and you literally split the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Brexit has led to a focus in all walks of life on the 52, 48 division. Institutions, be they cultural, educational, or business, now ask themselves, “what are we doing to engage people who voted Brexit?” “What does our endeavour mean for the people of Lincoln?”

As an aside, this question is valuable, but to my mind is in danger of becoming over-simplified; reducing to ‘city folk and country folk’, or the educated and uneducated, the haves and the have nots. Nancy Rothwell commented recently that we must stop talking as if clever people voted remain and silly people did not. Indeed. Of course, such simplifications are not true. What I recall is that the vote was porous. Even in the towns where the remain or leave vote was most concentrated, the highest vote proportion was about 70% either way. So, whether in the metropolitan boroughs of London, or the coastal towns of the north east there are large minorities of people who voted differently to the label their town is now given.

Government’s Industrial Strategy

Why does this matter for science and engineering? Because the biggest injection of resource and political attention in to R&D has taken place specifically to address the productivity divide. The Industrial Strategy. In Theresa May’s opening statement of her premiership, she said, “we need a strong, new positive vision for the future of our country, a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but that works for every one of us.” And, “we need a government that will deliver serious social reform – and make ours a country that truly works for everyone,” going on to specify differences in health, education, justice and earnings opportunities between the poor and the wealthy.

The Industrial Strategy, published in November 2017, represents delivery of that aim. In her foreword, the Prime Minister says, “one of my first actions as Prime Minister was to begin the development of a modern Industrial Strategy that would help businesses to create high quality, well paid jobs right across the country.” The central objective of the Industrial Strategy is given as ‘to improve living standards and economic growth across the country’. The aim is given as: that by 2030 we will have transformed productivity and earning power across the UK to become the world’s most innovative economy. And a package of measures under the heading of ‘ideas’ provides the impetus to transform innovation, including R&D tax credits, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the target to raise R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Raising R&D intensity is a core driver of the industrial strategy, following the economic logic that R&D will drive productivity. Combined with this is the attention on differences in not just national productivity in aggregate, but a more granular attention to quality of life across the country, to those ‘left behind by globalisation’, and hence to address productivity differentials across the UK – and so to the focus on ‘place’.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) was formed in this moment, coming into existence in April of this year, with a lens, if not a specific purpose, to deliver on the industrial strategy. Certainly, it takes ownership of several strands of the ‘ideas pillar’ of the industrial strategy. In the vision statement of UKRI’s Strategic Prospectus, UKRI describes its vision in terms of the Government’s Industrial Strategy aims to become the most innovative country in the world and to reach the 2.4% target, including via The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, derived from the National Productivity Investment Fund.

One interesting question then, is to consider the Venn diagram of the industrial strategy and UKRI. How closely do they overlap in purpose or in activity? What does this mean for science and engineering? UKRI now represents around 70% of public investment in R&D. What if we add the other 30% to the Venn diagram. What is overlap then? In other words, how closely does the central objective of the Industrial Strategy, to improve living standards and economic growth across the country, apply to public investment in research and innovation?

Roadmap to investment

The 2.4% goal is a potentially transformative effort – for the UK, for us as individual citizens and for scientists and engineers.

There are many routes to delivering it and attention is now focussed on setting a roadmap for that delivery and measures for its success. It seems to me that the input and the output are held in tension. Raising investment in R&D across the economy is an input. Improving living standards and economic growth is an output. There are many strategies one can consider to raise R&D investment in the UK, and Government and UKRI are indeed doing so. Which you choose might depend on whether your priority is the input goal or the output goal. For example, Foreign Direct Investment into a location of existing research and innovation excellence might yield large gains in reaching the input goal of attracting billions of additional pounds of private R&D. But it might fail the Prime Minister’s social reform challenge in the opening paragraphs of the industrial strategy: ‘For me it is not enough to see growth in the national economy if your local economy is shrinking.’ I think this characterizes the current tension in research funding arguments between excellence and place. In an environment of a rising budget for research and innovation, we should be able to accommodate these various needs in a conscious and purposeful way.

This has been a year in which the Government’s view of the contribution science and engineering can make to the national agenda has been crystallised in the form of the Industrial Strategy and UKRI and the affirmation of the goal to raise research intensity to 2.4% of national wealth.

CaSE’s notable achivements

So what has CaSE been doing to meet our mission, to ensure the UK has the skills, funding and policies to enable science and engineering to thrive?

Last year, I set three goals for the year ahead: to have policy impact – running specific and impactful campaigns, and drawing on members to amplify our voice; to be a truly nationwide organisation – with a vibrant presence across the whole UK in our policy and membership work; and to be fit for the future – taking care of our team, creating stable financial growth and responding to evolving regulatory requirements.

I can absolutely say we have achieved these goals and I thank the team at CaSE for delivering them. I will give you just a few highlights to illustrate how we have done this.

Perhaps the most significant policy impact CaSE had in 2018 was achieving reform of visa regulations that this year prevented thousands of people from outside the EU accepting jobs they had been offered in the UK for skilled work, including for over 8000 STEMM related jobs. This campaign was rooted in evidence, seeking out the data behind the impact. It was specific and impactful and drew on our members, including a letter to the Prime Minister signed by 47 organisations, most of which were CaSE members and some that were new collaborators including the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Engineering Federation, EEF. This campaign won CaSE recognition, gratitude and reach into new places. We received significant coverage in the media, were referenced by a number of high-profile columnists, for example Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, Jenny Russell in the Times and George Osborne in the Evening Standard editorial, as well as some international exposure in the New York Times, in India and China. CaSE has been shortlisted in the Public Affairs Category of the European Excellence Awards for this work.

Beyond this specific visa issue, CaSE has built its influence in policy thinking on skills more broadly, particularly on migration. We have just published a migration briefing to inform Parliamentarians during the passage of the anticipated immigration bill.

On issues of R&D investment, CaSE has built up a substantial portfolio of work for the upcoming Spending Review, for which there is all to play for if we are to achieve the 2.4% target. CaSE has held 25 detailed member interviews on this subject and four events: roundtables on innovation in Cardiff, with BEIS and Treasury and a member workshop with Sir John Kingman, Chair of UKRI. We are holding another meeting with UKRI on the 2.4% agenda on Wednesday. Further, CaSE has engaged closely with the Science Minister on this issue, sharing with him our modelling of the 2.4% target and the messages we hear from members. Therefore, we are confident that our findings and calls are well-evidenced.

We have increased our UK-wide presence and engagement substantially, both through increased membership from across the UK and from our attendance at events and meetings in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England this year. We held 43 one-to-one member meetings in 2018, 23 of which were with the most senior representative of the organisation – with CEOs or Vice Chancellors – which means our work is more richly informed.

CaSE has made huge strides in its fitness for the future as an organisation. This includes the review of our Articles of Association and the appointment of new board members, as well as steering us through the arrival of new data regulation in the form of GDPR.

I will take a pause here to say a few words about some of the people of CaSE. CaSE was founded in 1986 and was led by Denis Noble and John Mulvey. Sadly, John died earlier this year. In remembering him, Denis told us about how, from the beginning, Denis had been the front man and John had done the analysis. His stories of John’s diligence in seeking out difficult to find data and turning it in to robust evidence gave me a great sense of pride and of continuity in the values of CaSE over the years. We will endeavour to be worthy of his standards as we continue our work. I can’t tell you how much Denis’ encouragement has meant to me as he has sent me occasional notes over the years.

Giving a voice to science and engineering

What strikes me about our work over the past year and about our purpose as an organisation, is that we are the voice for the rich ecosystem of science and engineering in the UK.

In the last year, we have been a voice for business –bringing out the voices of the those that are overlooked to be heard by Government. We have been a voice for research institutes and research charities where their needs are distinct to research universities. We have been a voice for the value of PhD funding in Northern Ireland. And as well as these moments, we have been a voice for the whole of the science and engineering system in settings such as the Science Minister’s High-Level Forum for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and EU Exit, pointing out the impacts of Brexit plans across the whole of the science ecosystem, not just one part of it. The CaSE board have endorsed this type of contribution, for example in the Brexit process, by bringing together illustrations and evidence from across our sector.

This has been a year when issues on the national agenda have become issues for science and engineering. Giving the best opportunity to every scientist, engineer, and the organisations that make use of their talents is important. More than ever, that means engaging in national level debate and policy making. There is no issue on our agenda that is a backwater, a science specialism. So yes, it’s harder – harder to cut through the clamour, harder to get traction. We must keep a cool head, stay focussed on the science and engineering interest in these debates, and work together. I predict that political turbulence will continue. So, whilst keep a cool head and staying focussed, we will need to build in capacity to be responsive. In the year ahead, my goals for CaSE will be to use our voice for the rich ecosystem of science and engineering in the UK with courage, with relevance and with others.

I look forward to reporting back next year.