HuaweiWhat does the future of R&D collaboration in the UK look like?

What does the future of R&D collaboration in the UK look like?

At the UK Academic Salon 2021, the University of Glasgow’s Sir Anton Muscatelli and Huawei’s Victor Zhang shared their thoughts on the UK’s research and development ecosystem and the investment needed to find the answers to tomorrow’s problems

The role that research and development will play in shaping the UK’s response to the greatest challenges facing society was a key theme of the keynote speeches delivered at the UK Academic Salon 2021.

Hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with Huawei, the salon heard Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, offer his thoughts on the UK’s targeted R&D spend of 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. Sir Anton welcomed the target but urged ministers to publish a detailed long-term strategy for R&D investment, with staging posts and a timeline for investment.

Sir Anton urged policymakers to move from the language of aspiration to that of delivery. Much work was needed to meet the target. Inward investment was critical, as the UK’s private-sector R&D spend would not be sufficient on its own. 

“Even if one takes an optimistic view of the prospects for the UK’s economic recovery and inward investment, this remains a stretching target,” said Sir Anton. “It is one that will only be met if ministers provide clarity about the quantum of public investment and how this will be scaled up as we approach 2027 so as to crowd in that private investment.”

Sir Anton said the cross-subsidisation of research spending had to be reconsidered. It would put the public-sector R&D spend on a more secure footing. The success of the UK’s vaccine roll-out and viral surveillance was an example of UK R&D’s potential when collaboration is scaled up and accelerated. One of the biggest lessons to take from the pandemic, Sir Anton said, was that the pipeline of basic research must be protected because translational research depends upon it. “Governments would be mistaken to overlook the importance of discovery-led research,” he said. “Ultimately, it is only by supporting the broad research base that we will enable the brightest minds to tackle the most pressing challenges and questions.”

In his keynote speech, Victor Zhang, vice-president of Huawei Technologies, echoed Sir Anton’s sentiments, noting Huawei’s commitment to the UK economy and collaboration with its research base. It had added £3.3 billion to the UK economy in the past four years.

With more than 30 partnerships with universities and research institutes, Huawei was investing in the future of UK science, Mr Zhang said. He identified climate change as the greatest challenge of our time, stressing Huawei’s commitment to green technologies and sustainability. “In 2021, Huawei’s digital energy solutions have saved 273 billion kilowatts of energy and reduced carbon emissions by 170 million tonnes,” he said. “This is equal to planting 220 million trees. At Huawei, we believe that we all have a responsibility and a role to play.”

Mr Zhang spoke of Huawei’s partnership with Imperial College Business School’s Leonardo Centre for sustainable business, “a new faculty at which we will explore and experiment with new ways of doing business to regenerate economies, communities and natural environments around the world”. This, he said, was indicative of Huawei’s commitment to creating the next generation of technology leaders.

Full recordings, THE’s editorial coverage and exclusive content from the 2021 UK Academic Salon is available here.

Learn more about Huawei and higher education.

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