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Impacts of Investment

01 Sep 2009

A CaSE report exploring the impacts of investing in the science and engineering research base.

Investment in the science and engineering research base generates a wide range of benefits. Some of these are outputs that can be easily quantified such as publications, spin-out companies, private investment in R&D, and training the workforce. Many valuable impacts are less easily counted like benefits to health, security, policy development, quality of life and culture

  • Investing in the science and engineering research base – research conducted in universities and research institutes – should play a critical part in rebalancing the UK economy following the economic downturn. Different research projects produce different profiles of benefits, but overall the return on investment is considerable and reliable. Unfortunately, the UK does not fare well in international comparisons of public or overall investment in R&D, both historically and following the recession. The UK must increase its public and private levels of R&D investment and genuinely try to reach its target of 2.5% GDP.
  • More can be done to maximize the benefits of ongoing research. The best way to enhance the impact of new knowledge is to ensure that it is fully communicated and developed into innovations and new products where appropriate. A range of initiatives to enhance knowledge exchange, collaboration, and translational research are now in place. But academic culture needs to value this work more – this could be achieved at the institutional level and through learned societies.
  • Strategies intended to increase impact are often based on measures of prior impact or predictions of future impact. These should be applied with caution and not used to compare value across sectors. Different time scales, units of measurement, intangible gains, and levels of predictability make it hard to measure past performance, let alone assess the likely success of future work.
  • The breadth of research across science and engineering, ranging from basic to applied research, is one of the UK’s competitive advantages. It enlarges the sectors that can attract internationally mobile industry investment, students, and researchers. It also enables the UK to gain more from research done overseas. A diversity of disciplines and approaches can foster innovation and provide the security to respond to unknown future challenges and opportunities. Any strategies to improve impact must not jeopardise this breadth.
  • Improving the pull through of research from users will improve impact. Pull from industry should increase with greater knowledge of ongoing work in the research base. It can also be advanced by various policy levers, including departmental R&D, procurement, regulation and taxation, and strategic support, such as through the Technology Strategy Board. These activities can be used to improve framework conditions in strategic areas likely to support economic growth.

Impacts of Investment