Extra £2.3 billion promised for UK R&D ahead of Budget

Announcement follows concerns raised that Britain’s economy will not grow as quickly as previously expected

November 20, 2017
Research and development
Source: Getty

An extra £2.3 billion in funding has been promised by the UK government ahead of this week’s Budget as part of a 10-year push to increase Britain’s research and development spending.

The cash injection will be delivered in 2021-22 alongside ministers’ longstanding target to increase R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2027, Prime Minister Theresa May said.

Writing in The Times, Ms May said: "We are not fulfilling Britain’s potential if, despite having scientists and universities renowned the world over, we cannot turn their ideas into the products and services on which the industries of the future will be built.

“If we are to make a success of this, we must invest more in turning brilliant discoveries into practical products…So we are going to increase government spending on research and development every year.”

Britain currently spends 1.7 per cent of GDP on R&D compared with an average of 2.4 per cent across other wealthy countries in Europe as well South Korea, Japan, Israel and others. Delivering Wednesday’s Budget speech, Chancellor Philip Hammond will include plans to match that figure and beyond, increasing combined public and private investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, and up to 3 per cent thereafter.

The announcement follows concerns raised that Britain’s economy will not grow as quickly as previously expected as a result of poor growth in productivity since the 2008 crash.

Welcoming the move, Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “Only by taking bold steps like this can we make sure that the UK maintains its world leading status in research and innovation.

“Meeting this commitment will require a concerted effort,” he added. “[UKRI] is already developing ideas as part of the industrial strategy to make sure these investments have the greatest possible impact.” 

Organisations such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) have long argued that the UK underspends on research. Ms May’s new industrial strategy, announced in January this year, strengthened the government’s previous commitment to spending an additional spend of £2 billion a year by 2020-21 on collaboration between business and scientists – increasing government R&D spending by around 20 per cent.

The additional £2.3 billion appears to come on top of the sum already promised, and raises total public investment in R&D to £12.5 billion for 2021-22.

Sarah Main, CaSE's executive director, said of the announcement: "This gives confidence that the government's plan is to keep rising public R&D investment on target over the next 10 years to reach parity with our international competitors.

"To reach the Government's target, the industrial strategy must provide specific and effective mechanisms to attract additional private investment of over £8 billion of globally-mobile R&D budgets. To continue to invest here through the uncertainty of Brexit, research-intensive companies are clear that the UK must provide a competitive economy with a healthy research base and immigration and regulation systems that support international R&D."

Sir Anton Muscatelli, chair of the Russell Group and principal of the University of Glasgow, added: “Whether we are talking about basic research or applied work, investment in science will pay for itself many times over and support high-value jobs across the economy.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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