Stop competition between research and teaching for funds, say academies

A future government should avoid pitching ‘complementary’ teaching and research funding against each other if it wants to boost higher education

February 10, 2015

This is one of the recommendations given by the four organisations that have come together to urge the next government to make the UK the best place to do research and innovation.

In a joint statement they spell out how the new government elected in May can build a strong research base by investing in research and development and fostering an environment that attracts further funding from industry and charities.

The British Academy, Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and Academy of Medical Sciences released the statement, Building a Stronger Future: Research, Innovation and Growth, on 10 February.

“In higher education, teaching is often undervalued when compared with research performance,” the statement says. Although the science funding ring fence offers “a degree of certainty in turbulent fiscal times”, much of the funding that is important to research, such as money for higher education teaching, lies outside it.

“The government should avoid creating a competition for resources between important and complementary aspects of the UK’s knowledge and skills base,” it adds.

The statement also lists policy priorities including putting research and innovation at the heart of long-term plans for economic growth, strengthening public investment in these areas and embedding expert advice throughout government to strengthen policy decisions.

It calls for research skills to be strengthened by a flexible and diverse workforce, and stresses the need for supportive education policies and an increase in the number of teachers with specialist subject knowledge.

Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “As well as growing the UK skills base, we must compete for the high quality global research and student talent available by having the right policies in place to encourage immigration that will benefit the nation.”

She added: “International research networks are growing in strength – we need to think in terms of being part of the ‘brain circulation’ and not focus on the ‘brain drain’.”

President of the British Academy Lord Stern of Brentford said: “The UK already produces some of the most cutting edge research in the world…However, we cannot take this leadership in research for granted.

“The national academies will be looking for the new government to place its commitment to research, through investment and informed policies, at the heart of its programme for the UK.”

The Campaign for Science and Engineering welcomed the statement. Its acting director, Naomi Weir, said that the combined voice of the academies is something the next government “can’t ignore”.

“These world-respected institutions are all saying we must invest more in research and innovation to drive economic growth and create a happier and healthier society,” she said.

“We all know that tough spending decisions are around the corner, but when you look at the benefits that these investments bring, the next government would be very foolish not to back science and engineering with greater investment,” she added.

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