UK Science and Innovation Strategy
HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills have published (Wednesday 17 December) the UK Government’s long-term strategy for science and innovation. It follows a round of consultation and evidence gathering, to which the RSE responded in August 2014.
Titled, Our plan for growth: science and innovation, the new strategy is largely related to non-devolved matters. However, there is much cross-over between Scotland’s world-class science and research community and that of the rest of the UK. The RSE is pleased to see science being considered at the heart of UK Government thinking. There are, however, certain areas of the strategy that are of concern:
1. To deliver the stated aspiration of making the UK the best place for science and business, increased investment in research, both by Government and business, will be required.
2. It is disappointing that there is no clear commitment to continuing the ring fencing of budgets after 2016. Stability in funding will be essential to deliver the desired outcomes.
3. Greater clarity is required on the proposed review of Research Councils.
4. The strategy pays insufficient attention to the importance and benefits of arts, humanities and social science research.
The RSE welcomes commitments made to address some key issues identified in its response to the consultation, covering the areas of business investment, infrastructure and talent. The RSE supports the commitment to undertake a review of schemes for IP markets, and of the open data information systems essential to support them to assess which are most likely to add to growth. The RSE would encourage the review to explore how university licensing of IP could be simplified. It should also consider increasing networking opportunities for academics involved in business start-ups and with individuals working in the risk capital community.
On infrastructure, the RSE notes a commitment to invest £3 billion to support capital projects and maintenance of the existing laboratories of UK universities and institutes. This reflects our recommendation to couple capital investments in infrastructure with the revenue streams that are needed to maintain, utilise and upgrade facilities.
On talent, the commitment to support those seeking to study for taught postgraduate qualifications with new income contingent loans for those aged under 30, is welcome. This is as an important step in the right direction and an improvement on the current system, which often requires those wishing to do taught master’s programme to borrow from banks at commercial rates, and to agree to a repayment structure which is not income contingent. That being said, the RSE reiterates its recommendation that loans and funding packages should ideally be owned and administered by Government agencies rather than by private banks.