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People and Culture strategy paves the way towards an inclusive R&D sector

04 Aug 2021

We look at some of the details within the government’s R&D People & Culture Strategy

Alongside the Innovation Strategy, the government published an R&D People and Culture strategy. The strategy states that the UK will need 150,000 more researchers and technicians across the public and private sector by 2030 to sustain the Government’s aim of a more research-intensive UK. The strategy is a really important step in recognising that without people there is no research – and going further to ensure that careers in research and innovation are made more secure and more attractive to a more diverse range of people, not only from the UK but from across the world, is essential in strengthening R&D in the UK.

The strategy gives the opportunity for the government to look beyond BEIS and address issues that affect the research and innovation sector and address points of tension that create barriers to having an open and diverse research culture. The ability for the government to coordinate the entire research and innovation sector is also of real value, mitigating against the often fragmented nature of organisations within the sector and can remove barriers to organisations attempting to change culture on their own.

What does the strategy pledge to do?

The strategy is framed as a ‘call to action for the sector’, the government has set out a vision that builds upon work already being carried out across the UK. This vision is split in to three broad categories, people, culture and talent which look at short-term interventions. The ‘People’ strand is focused on how the sector can do more to identify skills gaps and support varied career paths. One of the strategy’s most significant commitments is a ‘New Deal for postgraduate research students’, which will look to better support students both practically and financially and will start with a cross-sector consultation lead by UKRI. Providing greater security to often precarious postgraduate roles will be incredibly important in retaining the research leaders of the future.

The ‘Culture’ section of the report looks at how the research sector can be more open and inclusive to everyone, including how more can be done to make larger parts of UK society feel connected to research. The strategy seeks to build upon the Resume for Researchers, developed by the Royal Society and UKRI, which seeks to expand upon the ways in which achievement scan be recognised and celebrating individual’s contribution to R&D beyond publications and grant receipts. The government will seek to push other funders to adopt this model, and this model will be even more effective if it is adopted universally.

The ‘Talent’ pillar of the strategy looks at both retaining and attracting a talented workforce to the UK. One of the key commitments is for the government to work together with funders of research and innovation to co-design a joined-up offer to individuals at all career stages from all backgrounds. There is also a role for the new Office for Talent, charged with launching an online service to provide key information to those from outside the UK to showcase all of the opportunities available to them. The strategy also states that the government will seek to improve immigration routes for innovators and entrepreneurs. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that until now, the newly introduced immigration system has not been tested to the fullest extent, but it is positive that BEIS and UKRI are still keen to improve the immigration system for scientists and engineers.

What more is there to be done?

The strategy is an important signpost for the research and innovation sector in the short and medium term. Indeed, the estimated 150,000 more people who will be required to enter the research workforce have likely already made the decision to pursue a career in research and innovation. The first section about ‘People’ retains some mentions of inspiring youth engagement to attract more people into research careers, but doesn’t have any details about wider issues pertaining to science education and inspiration across schools that have a long-term affect on science and engineering. Making a more open, diverse and inclusive culture within the research sector is incredibly important and key to this is inspiring a wider group of people to believe that they can be scientists, mathematicians, engineers, technicians, or generally see themselves having a career in STEM. Our recent report, Inspiring Innovation, outlines some of the key issues and policy recommendations to help to create equal opportunities for all children across the UK. Should the strategy be truly successful in coordinating across government and policy areas including immigration and education, the UK can take significant steps in creating a truly open and inclusive research and innovation sector.