R&D freeze cuts no ice

August 1, 2013

Public investment in UK higher education research is crucial to the academy maintaining its world-class status. As your graph shows (“Who greases the wheels of research? Funding for UK higher education shifts up a gear”, News, 25 July), offering a patina of protection to the science budget or relying on private investment will not allow us to keep pace with competitor countries.

The National Audit Office report from which the graph’s figures are taken says that higher education institutions play an increasingly significant role in terms of research and development. In fact, they contribute  per cent of total R&D spending in the UK, compared with 19 per cent across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The NAO report suggests that the UK cannot rely on business to invest significantly more in research: its expenditure in this area has risen by only 17 per cent since 1995, compared with a 114 per cent increase in research council funding.

While there has been a welcome rise in the UK academy’s R&D spending since 1995, the NAO warns that other nations have increased their investment at a faster rate. The report goes on to suggest that this could reflect the “increasing emphasis that some countries are placing on higher education as a way to rebalance their economies and recover from recession”.

In such a competitive international climate, and at a time when other countries are continuing to prioritise additional funding for research and science, it is not enough for the UK government simply to “protect” the science budget with a continued freeze (which after all is a real-terms cut). We need significant increases in the research budget if we are to maintain our proud international reputation.

Simon Renton
President
University and College Union

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