Academia must convince BIS on capital funding for research

UK universities must form business partnerships to demonstrate the need for public investment. By Elizabeth Gibney

May 16, 2013

Universities need to make it clearer to government how funds will be spent

Universities that are looking for more capital funding need to present clearer cases to government for how they would use the money, a senior higher education official has said.

David Sweeney, director for research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said universities should be “bashing down the door” of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to highlight potential projects they were missing out on.

“Institutions need to say more, not just about the benefits to themselves, but to the businesses they are engaged with,” he said. “Convincing the government means finding really good case studies which show businesses saying ‘I can’t do the research and development I want to do because you don’t have the equipment’.”

Capital funding was cut by an estimated £1.7 billion in the 2010 spending review. The government has since replaced around £1.5 billion of this in piecemeal investments, primarily targeted at eight broad technology areas and often matched by funding from outside the sector.

For instance, since last October, 15 projects have been funded through the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, for which universities must secure private funding worth at least double the public contribution.

Mr Sweeney said building long-term relationships with other universities and business partners would allow for a quick response to government- backed capital funding calls.

Steven Hill, head of research policy at Hefce, said that leveraged funding was emerging as the main route for capital expenditure, and that much of the responsibility for finding such partnerships sat with universities.

Both were speaking after a policy forum on research infrastructure and capital, organised by the 1994 Group of small research-intensive universities and held in London on 2 May.

Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group, said the changing nature of capital funding highlighted the importance of institutions forming strategic relationships to “best take advantage of funding as it arises”.

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