Press release

“The Innovation Challenge: A new approach to research funding” – latest report from million+

11 Sep 2014

In a new report (published on 11 September) the university think-tank million+ says that the government must increase taxpayer investment in research and development to match that of the UK’s competitors. However, the think-tank warns that access to research funding risks becoming a ‘closed shop’ as a result of government policies which have directed more and more resources to fewer universities. The report, The Innovation Challenge: A new approach to research funding, says that the next government should fund research capacity in all universities and create a new stream of funding for translational research in order to support innovation, address imbalances in regional growth and ensure that students have access to research-informed teaching and facilities wherever they study.

Key findings
• The UK invests less in publicly funded research and development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP than the leading 22 OECD countries and lies 19th of OECD countries in terms of private sector investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP; the UK also invests less in R & D than the average of other EU Member States

• Because of a focus on narrow definitions of excellence, by 2012-13, 25% of the £1.9bn of research funding provided by taxpayers was allocated to five universities with 12 institutions receiving 50% of the funding in spite of there being no reassessment of research quality

• These policies create inequity for students, waste the talents of university staff across the sector and limit interaction between universities, local businesses and the not-for-profit sector

• A focus on STEM risks under-estimating the value of research in the social sciences and the creative industries in which the UK is currently a world-leader

• The UK’s current approach to research funding stands in stark contrast to the Nordic and other countries which fund research capacity and translational research and have better records in innovation and attracting private R&D investment

• In addition to adopting a new target to increase investment in research, the next government should ensure that all universities are funded to develop research capacity and  establish a new stream of funding for translational research to improve Britain’s record in innovation

Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of university think-tank million+ said:

“The UK must invest more in research and development but the next government should also free itself from the limited thinking that has dominated the research debate in Britain.

“The hyper-concentration of research funding in fewer and fewer universities stands in stark contrast to the approach adopted in countries with stronger innovation outcomes”. 

“If Britain is to meet the global challenges of tomorrow and tackle historic imbalances in regional growth, all universities must receive funding to invest in research capacity and new and emerging areas”.

“Local businesses, SMEs and the public sector would also benefit from a funding stream for translational research focused on universities which have strong records of regional engagement.”

Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of million+ said:

“Successive governments have stressed their desire to invest in research excellence but if we are to deliver growth by research we also need to change the game”.

“Definitions of excellence have been narrowed and funding parameters changed to produce unwarranted levels of concentration which will only take the country so far.”

“Ministers should also do more to promote research in the social sciences and creative industries which are just as important as STEM.”

“In the run-up to the election politicians need to outline how they will deliver a more balanced approach to research funding in order to harness the expertise of staff in all universities, support growth and ensure that outcomes for students are fairer.”


Notes to Editors
1. For further information or to arrange interviews with either Professor Michael Gunn or Pam Tatlow, contact Rochelle Owusu- Antwi, Press and Communications officer:| 02077171658 | 07527 336795
2. million+ is a leading university think-tank. More information can be found at