Innovation strategy 'ignores' funding and visas

Concerns have been expressed about the failure of the government's innovation and research strategy to address issues such as postgraduate finance and visa regulations.

December 15, 2011

The strategy, published last week, was broadly welcomed by the higher education sector, even though most of the headline new measures - such as an extra £75 million to help the Technology Strategy Board support small businesses - do not directly impact on universities.

Among the measures that do affect universities directly are a £250,000 annual government investment in "inducement prizes" to solve interdisciplinary challenges, measures to make it easier for consortia to bid for research council funding, and a £10 million "open data institute" that will teach skills such as text-mining to researchers in companies and in the academy.

Meanwhile, the research councils will invest £2 million in a Gateway to Research portal that will form "a single point of access to search and analyse information on funded research across the research councils" to help companies pinpoint where the research activity relevant to them is being carried out.

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, welcomed many of the measures in the strategy, but was "disappointed" it did not address concerns about postgraduate funding, or adopt the Russell Group's proposal for a new bank loan scheme for postgraduates.

She also called for more capital funding to be made available to universities, and for research to be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.

David Price, vice-provost for research at University College London, praised the government for "the stability of its commitment to the research base" in difficult times.

But he said it was a pity the strategy's "fine words on the importance of mobile highly skilled people" had not translated into concessions regarding universities' continuing concerns about the government's new visa regulations.

"There are still considerable issues with respect to the length of time talented researchers are able to remain in the UK or take up employment," he said.

"In an era of constrained funding and difficult decisions, small amendments in immigration regulations may be the most cost-effective route to maintaining our global research profile."

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