On Tuesday 7 November, His Majesty King Charles III delivered a speech to both Houses of Parliament to mark the State Opening of Parliament. The speech, written by the Government, sets out the legislative agenda for the current parliamentary session. This year long parliamentary session is the last of this current Government as a general election must take place by January 2025.

The initial reaction to the content of the Speech from the higher education sector, including from NCUB, was concern at the reference to ‘poor quality university degrees’ – the only explicit reference to higher education. This was not accompanied by anything to indicate serious consideration of the various factors – including the socio-economic status of students – that affect drop-out rates nor the wider economic context of severe skills shortages. Additionally, the Manichean framing, typical though not useful, of ‘poor quality university degrees’ versus ‘high quality apprenticeships’ does not suggest the holistic approach to education and skills necessary to support a globally competitive research and innovation sector.

Elsewhere in the Speech, other areas of interest to business and university members include references to:

  • ‘Support future licensing of new oil and gas fields’
  • ‘A bill to promote trade and investment with economies in the fastest growing region in the world’
  • ‘New legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries’
  • And the ‘Global Investment Summit.’

Firstly, the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill – if enacted – will allow for new licenses to drill for fossil fuels in the North Sea. The stated ambition for the bill is to reduce reliance on imports and thereby increase the UK’s energy security and decrease the energy costs for consumers. However, the impact of any new licenses is expected to be limited[1].

The ‘bill to promote trade and investment with economies in the fastest growing region in the world’, the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill is necessary legislation for the UK to fulfil its formal agreement, made in July, join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The UK will join Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in the trading bloc. This move has been celebrated as an diplomatic victory and welcomed by business groups though the economic impact of participation is expected to be limited.

The Automated Vehicles Bill is intended to ‘regulate the use of automated vehicles.’ Technology groups have welcomed the Bill as a necessary step to facilitate the deployment of the self-driving vehicles and enable the UK to retain and capture the research and development associated with this.

The Global Investment Summit, also mentioned in the Speech, though previously announced, is due to take place on the 27 November. Public information on the summit remains limited[2], though it follows a similar event in 2021 and is intended to bring together leaders of international companies to demonstrate the strengths of the UK as a destination for inward investment. The Summit follows work by NCUB and others this year to highlight the importance of a proactive approach to attracting international investment in R&D[3]. Taken together with the immediate publication of the Harrington Review, this focus on investment is welcome. However, further action is likely to remain necessary to ensure that the UK retains and grows its share of international mobile investment in R&D.

Taken together, disparaging comments aside, while specific Bills are of interest, there appears relatively little of direct importance to university-business collaboration. We wait with interest for the forthcoming Autumn Statement.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/8146804f-770e-42ee-8435-72469f92b4fd

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-announces-second-global-investment-summit-to-create-jobs-in-high-tech-sectors

[3] https://www.ncub.co.uk/insight/attracting-international-investment-in-rd/