The outcome of the independent review of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) led by Sir David Grant was published today.
The review sought to examine the performance of UKRI in three areas: efficacy, efficiency and accountability and governance. The review found overall that UKRI has performed well during a period of instability, but that opportunities remain to increase its efficiency and efficacy. Specifically, in the context of innovation, the report observed that, ‘the potential to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts by pulling through research into development and commercialisation is not being maximised.’
UKRI was established, in part, to deliver, ‘improved collaboration between the research base and the commercialisation of discoveries in the business community, ensuring that research outcomes can be fully exploited for the benefit of the UK.’ If the UK is to thrive, it is vital that UKRI delivers this.
The Review acknowledges that UKRI has operated in a volatile operational environment, marked for the last two years by the pandemic. Since the organisation’s formal launch in 2018, its operation has also been affected by short-term funding settlements, reductions in support for Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) research, changes in senior staff and now, uncertainty concerning Horizon Europe association alongside broader political instability. Its performance in this context has been good. However, further action is required to realise it and the UK research and innovation system’s potential.
The Grant Review observes that the extent to which innovation activity takes place across UKRI is not well understood outside the organisation. It further reveals that the potential of Innovate UK and joint-working has not yet been fully realised and that the organisation has not yet developed effective processes for working with larger businesses. It recommends that, ‘UKRI should continue to explore new models and innovative funding approaches to promote outcome-focused interdisciplinary research.’ This is consistent with the recommendations of our 2020 Taskforce Report, which called for, ‘UKRI, in partnership with devolved funding bodies, should consider ways to more overtly join existing funds up to create a more streamlined experience for the businesses and universities accessing them.’ More broadly, our engagement suggests that businesses continue to find UKRI difficult to navigate. If the organisation is to deliver ‘improved collaboration between the research base and the commercialisation of discoveries in the business community’, it is necessary that barriers to funding and delivering programmes across UKRI’s constituent bodies are overcome and its offer for businesses is communicated in a clear, coherent and accessible manner. In addition to, greater internal ‘simplicity, integration, harmonisation and agility’, UKRI needs continued support from Government and freedom to deliver its mission and help to deliver the innovation that could enable the UK to thrive.