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Committee calls for research excellence to be spread across the UK

12 September 2019

Beyond the Golden Triangle

The Committee believes that research excellence needs to be encouraged outside of the ‘golden triangle' of concentrated research funding (between London, Oxford and Cambridge) and recommends that UKRI significantly increase the size of the Strength In Places Fund to address this issue.

Research and development funding

The Government has set a target for research and development (R&D) funding to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and reiterated this commitment in the recent Spending Round.

The Committee welcomes this target and recommends that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) publish their roadmaps setting out plans to achieve it as soon as possible, and no later than the end of 2019.

ONS data suggests that R&D spending of 1.69% in 2017 in the UK was an increase from 1.67% the previous year.  In terms of international comparison, using UNESCO data these levels are similar to Canada and Norway, but lower than France (2.3%), Germany (2.9%) and behind table leaders such as South Korea and Israel (both 4.2%). 

Plans contained in the roadmaps should show an integrated approach between UKRI and BEIS that suitably reflects the strengths and prospects of the UK economy These plans should be developed beyond 2027 to ensure travel towards the longer-term 3% target.

Quality Related Funding

The flat profile of quality-related (QR)[1] funding in recent years suggests that it has not been prioritised in funding decisions, although the announcement of a £45 million increase in QR funding by Research England in July 2019 indicates that there may be a change in this focus.

The Committee recommends that a focus on QR funding is maintained in future funding decisions, and review whether additional support should be provided for smaller but potentially fast-growing institutions.

Dual Support system

The Committee recommends that UKRI extend its analysis of ‘balance' beyond the dual support system, looking at other dimensions of balance such as the regional concentration of funding, the balance between research and innovation, and the balance between capital and current spending, as addressed in this Report.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

“Research and development spending brings huge economic and social benefits to us all. So, although we welcome the Government's commitment to substantially increase research and development funding to 2.4% by 2027, a plan is now needed on how this target will be achieved. We are already behind international competitors such as Germany and France, and we can't fall further behind.

“We have advised the Government to publish its ‘roadmaps' on how it hopes to meet the 2.4% target no later than the end of this year. I hope to see plans that reach beyond 2027 and clearly reflect how integration between UKRI and BEIS will strengthen and harness the benefits of research spending for society.

“While UK research is world-leading and we have many world-leading universities and research institutions, excellence and funding are concentrated in a small number of institutions, in a few regions of the UK. The Government's Strength in Places Fund is a key tool in spreading excellence to different regions. However, it is too modest to drive any significant rebalancing of investment. That's why we've called for it to be substantially increased.”

Further information

Image: PA/Huntingdon Life Sciences