This letter was signed by members of NCUB’s R&D Taskforce last week, alongside the report: Research to Recovery. A shortened version of this letter was published in The Times on Friday 13th November. See here.

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the critical importance of research and development (R&D). It has also shown how much can be achieved when universities and businesses work together towards a common purpose.

Around the world, partnerships between industry and academia are leading the way on tackling the virus. From furthering our understanding of how Covid-19 is transmitted, to potential treatments, vaccine development and other world-leading innovations that will save lives and protect livelihoods.

Investing in R&D will power our recovery from Covid-19 and help the UK to remain competitive in a global market transformed by rapidly evolving technology and the urgency of climate change. The UK has a world-leading research base, but has long under-invested in R&D and innovation. Cumulatively, the UK has spent £44 billion less on R&D in the last ten years than it would have if we had invested at the OECD average.

As we look towards the future, the UK has an opportunity to not just adapt, but also to shape a knowledge-built economy. We can grasp the opportunities of emerging technologies and science and position ourselves at the forefront of global innovation.

In July 2020, we collectively formed a Taskforce of university and business leaders to advise and form recommendations on the future of the UK’s research and innovation.

The Taskforce recommends:

  • A refresh of the Industrial Strategy that places research and innovation as its engine. By backing businesses innovation, the Government will help create a more resilient, competitive and productive economy.
  • The establishment of a network of ‘Innovation Collaboration Zones’ across the UK to aid the levelling up agenda. The Government, with UK Research and Innovation , should create simpler mechanisms to support businesses to innovate, and to galvanise industry and academia.
  • The creation of a Global Collaboration Fund to encourage universities and businesses to pool their strengths to attract inward investment, attracting investment from businesses in the UK and overseas.
  • A widened remit of the Office for Talent to help grow and deliver domestic talent, alongside attracting global talent. A coordinated, cross-cutting approach needs to be taken to develop, upskill, retain and retrain domestic talent.

The Government has already set an ambitious target to double total R&D spending in the UK by 2027, a target that will require businesses to spend £17.5 billion more on research than they do today.

The stakes could not be higher. Research and innovation will be a lifeline for our economic recovery post-Covid and for our long-term prosperity for all parts of the UK.

This is not a time for minor intervention, but for bold vision, national coordination, and collective purpose.

Yours sincerely,

  • Sam Laidlaw, Chair of NCUB and Chair of the Taskforce
  • David Sweeney, Executive Chair at Research England, UKRI
  • Lord Karan Bilimoria, President of CBI
  • Sir Ian Davis, Chairman of Rolls Royce
  • Jan du Plessis, Chairman of BT
  • Anne Glover CBE, CEO and co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners
  • Sir Jonathan Symonds CBE, Non-Executive Chairman of GSK
  • Thomas Thune Andersen, Chairman of Orsted
  • Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London
  • Professor Sir Peter Gregson, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University
  • Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice- Chancellor of Keele University
  • Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow
  • Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford