Budget 2020: UK research spending to hit £22 billion by 2024-25

Chancellor goes beyond Tory manifesto pledges and signals immediate £400 million boost for 2020-21

March 11, 2020
Source: Getty
‘Investing in ideas’ new chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged that UK research spending will hit £22 billion by 2024-25

The UK government has pledged to go beyond the hikes in research spending promised in the Conservative manifesto, increasing investment to £22 billion a year by 2024-25 with an immediate £400 million rise building “excellence” in research institutes and universities in all regions.

The Budget speech delivered by Rishi Sunak, the new chancellor, also confirmed a budget of “at least” £800 million for a blue-skies research agency modelled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – the vision of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior adviser.

It also announced that VAT on academic journals, as well as on books and newspapers, would be abolished from 1 December, and that there would be £80 million of support for specialist research institutions.

And the Budget says the government has “decided not to pursue additional sales of pre-2012 income-contingent student loans”, following an internal review.

The speech did not address funding for teaching in English higher education or the government’s response to the Augar review of post-18 education – to be dealt with in the autumn spending review.

On research and development spending, Mr Sunak referred to the Tory manifesto pledge to double spending to £18 billion. “I will not be doing that today,” he continued. “Instead, I will increase investment in R&D to £22 billion.”

The Budget red book confirmed the move to “increase public R&D investment to £22 billion per year by 2024-25”, along with “an immediate funding boost of up to £400 million in 2020-21 for world-leading research, infrastructure and equipment”.

This “landmark investment is the largest and fastest ever expansion of support for basic research and innovation, taking direct support for R&D to 0.8 per cent of [gross domestic product] and placing the UK among the top quarter of OECD nations – ahead of the USA, Japan, France and China”, the red book continues.

Mr Sunak also said that the government would be “changing the way we fund science in this country”, highlighting the fact that at present half of research and development spending goes to London, the south east and the east of England.

He added that “much of” the immediate £400 million in new funding would go to “our brilliant universities around this country”. The red book explains that this immediate injection will “help build excellence in research institutes and universities right across the UK, particularly in basic research and physical sciences”.

To increase private investment in research and development, Mr Sunak said that the government would extend R&D tax credits from 12 per cent to 13 per cent.

On specialist institutions, the Budget red book says: “In recognition of their excellence and global reach, the government will increase funding for the UK’s foremost specialist institutions by £80 million over the next five years.

“This will support world-leading organisations such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Royal College of Art and the Institute of Cancer Research among others.”

The red book also says: “At the [spending review], the government will examine how R&D funding as a whole can best be distributed across the country to help level up every region and nation of the country.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said that the increase in research investment “shows the government understands just how important science is for the whole of the UK to prosper. What’s good for science is good for us all.”

Professor Ramakrishnan said that the investment in the new research agency “demonstrates this government is embracing opportunities to try new things”.

“We must also continue to build on our great strengths in the basic research that feeds the innovation of the future and will ensure the UK maintains its status as a global science leader…We look forward to further clarity in the autumn spending review on how this new investment is allocated across the UK’s research and innovation landscape,” Professor Ramakrishnan said.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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