By Dr Joe Marshall, CEO, National Centre for Universities and Business

Government’s commitment to raise investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 is a challenging one. Universities and Science Minister Sam Gyimah has openly invited submissions from informed actors in the system to develop creative solutions to what is a complex problem.

Investment in R&D produces and supports the vital innovations that keep us at the forefront of technological discovery. It cross-pollinates process improvements and learning between sectors. It brings universities and businesses together in pursuit of common aims. And ultimately it creates jobs, attracts even more investment and raises national productivity – all key equations for Government to balance.

Last week, Sam Gyimah announced two publications to support delivery against the target. The first, an initial delivery plan, will be published in the autumn; the second, a roadmap in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review, will follow in the first quarter of next year. So, now is the time for those in the research and commercialisation community to make their voices heard.

Accordingly, NCUB has done something really at the core of our remit – we have brought together higher education and industry to explore fresh new approaches to driving R&D investment from both public and private sources. We have been in discussion with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and are pleased to submit the letter copied below to the officials responsible for the delivery of this target. Our strategic advisor Professor Graeme Reid has already written on the significance of, and possible avenues towards this ambition.

Over the autumn, we invited NCUB’s membership to a series of four round tables to discuss their perspectives on increasing R&D investment. Chaired by Professor Reid, these discussions surfaced some fascinating insights and rich deliberations on not just the role university-business collaboration can play in delivering increased investment, but also some larger-scale reflections and innovative suggestions to create favourable conditions. Highlights are drawn out below:

  • The persistent narrative around research commercialisation in the UK is that we’re not as good at it as we should be. To an extent this may be true – but this is a common complaint across countries we traditionally regard as being highly competent in this space. And we have successes we can point to. Government should celebrate the many successful business-university interactions, otherwise we risk deterring the foreign direct investment which will be critical to accomplishing 2.4%; we must remain an attractive destination for investment from global corporations as they will bear a heavy load in this equation.
  • Continued access to global investment and talent pools is critical – in the context of Brexit, we must ensure we maintain access to the brightest minds and the best ideas. Barriers to this are barriers to increasing the proportion of investment in R&D.
  • There is a place-based element to investment in R&D, and excellence exists in more than just ‘pockets’ across the country. There is an appetite for increased regional funding, including from the public sector; but there is little call for centrally-driven interventions to specifically rebalance investment in R&D on a regional basis.
  • More risk capital is needed to accelerate R&D investment in growing businesses. In the context of the Patient Capital Review, unlocking investment capital from UK pension funds into illiquid assets such as high-growth companies – perhaps curated for investment-readiness by collaborating university and business networks.
  • A focus on outcomes, rather than procedures and compliance, will give rise to more creative and innovative solutions flourishing.

This correspondence and these findings are not the end of the story. We will be building a stock of information, reflections and analysis on the NCUB website; maintaining dialogue with Government; and working with our membership to develop and deepen these suggested innovations. If you would like to know more, please get in touch.

Click the image to view the letter submitted to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:

NCUB letter to Dept for BEIS



Published: 15 October 2018