CaSE has written to the Science Minister, calling on the government to ensure that all areas of the UK research base are protected from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UK science base is a rich ecosystem of research and innovation by organisations across different sectors. This base has a vital role to play in driving an R&D-led economic recovery and measures must therefore be taken to ensure that the entire sector recovers from the impact of Covid-19.
In response to the creation of a new government taskforce on the effect of Covid-19 on research, CaSE has written to the Science Minister to highlight the pressing case for stabilisation measures that reach across the diverse range of organisations that contribute to this country’s outstanding performance in research and innovation.
A copy of the letter has been sent to the Universities Minister, and we have also written to the Chairs of the Lords and Commons Science & Technology Select Committees, inviting them to gather evidence about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the wider research sector.
We welcome the steps the Government has already taken to support university research during the Covid-19 crisis and the taskforce that has been created to explore further measures. Universities are a large and important part of the UK research base. Their stabilization should be a priority, not least so they can contribute to the economic and social reconstruction that will follow.
However, we also see a pressing case for stabilization measures that reach across the diverse range of organisations that contribute to this country’s outstanding performance in research and innovation.
The UK science base is a rich ecosystem of research and innovation by organisations across the private, public and third sectors. These include multinational R&D-led corporates, scale-ups and start-ups, early-stage investors, science parks, research institutes, learned societies, universities, further education colleges, publishers, research charities, trade unions and public science centres. Partnerships between these organisations have flourished in recent years, particularly in pursuit of the economic and societal impact of research.
The connections and interfaces within the research base enable UK science and research to perform beyond their means. These interfaces are vital for the science base to contribute to an R&D-led economic recovery and to ‘levelling up’ across the UK.
However, these connections are fragile. Current financial pressures mean that partners from public, private and third sectors will experience ‘pain and recovery’ at different times, making it even more difficult to participate in collaborations. Some of the UK’s strategic R&D assets take this multi-partner form and could be subject to such fragility.
Publicly-funded charities are experiencing rapid loss of income; R&D-led manufacturing businesses, such as aerospace and automotive, are experiencing a collapse in demand. Many research –intensive businesses have multinational R&D operations, so an enforced reduction in R&D expenditure comes with location decisions that could see R&D move out of the UK. If one assumes a 20% overall reduction in business investment on R&D, in line with charity estimates of a 25% reduction, that would equate to reduction of c. £5bn in UK R&D.
We hear from charities and businesses that large volumes of R&D activity are being stopped and that there will be a hard look at priorities when they restart.
Your taskforce has the opportunity to address not just higher education research and knowledge exchange, but wider issues that underpin the sustainability of an innovative economy in the UK. It could consider the role of the research base in an innovation-led recovery, and the measures required to sustain such a research base through this period and the coming years.
We therefore encourage the Government – through you – to consider the health of the whole research base: not only the jewels but the whole crown. It is the interactions between these actors that will deliver the Government’s agenda.
CaSE Executive Director and CaSE Chair