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Supporting science and engineering

14 Nov 2016

Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson reflects on how Government has enabled the UK’s leadership as a scientific powerhouse

In my role as Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, I am hugely privileged to have a remit that spans supporting the training of the best academic minds in our world leading Universities, to driving the delivery of cutting edge technology in our most innovative of businesses. I am fortunate to serve a community championed by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), and I feel honoured to participate in celebrations for its thirtieth year.

Like CaSE, the Government recognises that research and innovation make a vital contribution to our country’s economy, its global competitiveness and its wellbeing. There is a wealth of evidence showing the fiscal benefits of UK public spending on research and innovation: it yields a 20% annual rate of return for our economy in perpetuity and acts as a magnet for private funding from both within the UK and from overseas, attracting £1.36 in private sector investment for every £1 of Government R&D spend. Furthermore, better research and innovation has resulted in fundamental improvements across people’s lives, from more fuel-efficient cars to more resilient flood defences.

The UK is unequivocally a science, research and innovation powerhouse. Our world leading research capabilities are underpinned by a number of distinct advantages. We have universities, infrastructure and history which are envied worldwide, and we have a long-established system that supports, and therefore attracts, the brightest minds, at all stages of their careers.

It is imperative that we continue to support and capitalise on these underlying strengths. That is why the Government has already protected our £4.7bn of public research funding, why it has maintained Innovate UK funding, why it is growing the Catapult network, and why the R&D tax credit is benefitting record numbers of businesses. It is also why the Government has launched the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund, why it has doubled its investment in the Newton Fund to £150m, and why it has announced £120m of new funding for university collaboration and tech transfer, building upon the well-established Higher Education Innovation Funding.

Alongside all of this, I recognise we can and must achieve even more, and that the referendum result only heightens the need for the UK to be a world-leader in research and innovation. We must emphasise our commitment to attracting the best researchers and innovators wherever in the world they come from, and we must be more ambitious than ever in building global research partnerships. We need to continue to collaborate in order to keep the UK at the forefront of international research on global challenges and continue supporting the economic progress and social welfare of developing countries.

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) will protect the underlying principles of our system which have put the UK in such a strong position. Key to this is the Government’s commitment to the Haldane Principle (as set out in 2010 Written Ministerial Statement by the then Universities and Science Minister David Willetts), which ensures the independence of the UK research base. The Higher Education and Research Bill will also, subject to parliament, enshrine the dual support system for research funding in law, and will maintain the autonomy of the Research Councils and business focus of Innovate UK. UKRI will be well positioned to provide a voice for the skills needs of our research and innovation ecosystem and support the development of future research talent. It will continue to work in partnership with major research funders, business and crucially the Office for Students, in recognition of the critical relationship between teaching and research.

But the creation of UKRI will also enable us to build on these strengths, address the challenges above and ensure the UK retains its position as a research and innovation powerhouse. UKRI will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research and knowledge exchange elements of HEFCE, helping us achieve the vision outlined in Sir Paul Nurse’s review. UKRI will provide a strengthened, unified voice for the UK’s research and innovation funding system, facilitating the dialogue with government and partners on the global stage. It will deliver greater focus on cross-cutting issues outside the core remits of the current funding bodies, such as multi- and inter-disciplinary research, enabling the system to respond rapidly and effectively to current and future challenges. It will drive commercialisation and impact by providing a smoother pathway for innovation and enabling improved collaboration between businesses and researchers.

As we celebrate 30 years since Save British Science was formed, I believe that – with the steps we are taking – we can look forward to a future of continued world-leadership in science, research and innovation, and increased capabilities to tackle the most pressing global problems and take advantage of the most exciting scientific opportunities.

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