28 May 2019
MillionPlus has for a long time argued that many funding mechanisms in the UK are outdated and ripe for reform. Funding mechanisms in the UK relating to research and development have been highly concentrated in a select number of institutions. This creates a highly disproportionate and skewed funding landscape in terms of finance, geography and institution type. Creating new arrangements that distribute funds more equitably across HEIs could be hugely advantageous for society and economic growth outside London and south east. A more proportionate funding arrangement has the potential to be more efficient and more competitive and foster the creation of more partnerships outside of the UK. MillionPlus has previously challenged the language often espoused by government about attracting the “brightest and the best” to the country. MillionPlus believes this to be an erroneous use of language, primarily from a strategic point of view, since there are many potential research students or staff who might not characterise themselves in these terms who nevertheless will make an extremely valuable contribution to British society, advancing research and innovation. Our preference would be for a focus on language such “entrepreneurial and talented” when referring to international students and academics.
MillionPlus has long called for the government to be ambitious in setting its targets for R&D spend. MillionPlus therefore welcomes steps that have been taken to setting targets to increase the percentage of spend on R&D in the British economy. In order to create an environment which best incentivises and attracts R&D investment to the UK, it is vital the country remains open, global and outward-looking. This will be best achieved by joined up thinking across departments to establish some level of coherence in approach. Optimal R&D investment coming into the UK will not be realised if BEIS is only allowed to operate in isolation on this issue and investment in this area will not be maximized without involvement or cooperation.
Modern universities therefore have a vast wealth of experience and knowledge relating to SMEs and bypassing this valuable asset in any new funding arrangements would be a grave error. Modern universities should be consulted or utilised in the development and implementation of any new funding arrangements so as to ensure the most productive use of public investment. All modern universities have embedded themselves in business communities particularly those featuring SMEs, and this has resulted in them developing strong and deep networks of partners over time. It is important to remember that alongside the research and development elements that make up the umbrella that is commonly referred to as R&D, there is a third pillar, that of implementation. This is a crucial factor that is often forgotten in discussions about R&D. This is effectively the last stage of R&D, but one on which much of its success hangs. This should therefore be brought into the conversation and feature much more prominently in the process.