With a Spending Review confirmed (and a public commitment to a three-year settlement) and a Cabinet reshuffle now underway, we reflect on the first of a series of planned Leadership Council Forums that took place on 7th September.

Chaired by the Rt Hon David Willetts with opening contributions from Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor at the University of Oxford and Sam Laidlaw, Chair of NCUB, offering reflections from a business perspective, the Leadership Council were asked to consider, in light of the forthcoming Spending Review, how best to de-risk and incentivise businesses to work with universities.

The Government’s commitment to making the UK a science superpower has recently been reinforced in various documents including the Innovation Strategy and the Plan for Growth. There was collective agreement in the meeting that the Spending Review is a critical staging post on the journey to the £22bn of public investment in R&D and ultimately reaching the 2.4% target. Momentum must be maintained to give universities the ability to effectively plan and to give confidence to businesses that the UK is serious on its commitment to making this happen.

Reaffirming a key recommendation made in the NCUB Research and Development (R&D) Taskforce last year, there was lively debate and discussion about the UK’s position globally on R&D. The importance of a joined-up offer to ensure that the UK is an attractive place for overseas companies to invest in R&D was critical. The UK has to act like a competitor in order to not lose ground to other nations who will see the UK’s FDI on R&D as an opportunity for them.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and lifesaving innovations such as vaccines and ventilators have raised the public profile of university and busines collaboration and the benefits it can bring. These have rightly grabbed the headlines and are important exemplars that demonstrate the art of the possible. However, for many sectors and businesses within them – incremental gains from smaller scale collaborations often with smaller businesses is where the transformation of the UK economy. There is still a need to encourage and enable more of these collaborations to take place.

NCUB will be using these, and a number of other suggestions and recommendations made at the Leadership Forum to shape our submission to the Spending Review consultation. Ahead of the deadline for submission to Treasury on 30th September, if members have further thoughts and ideas to throw into the mix, we would be delighted to hear from you.