UK progress on research spending goal ‘26 years behind schedule’

CBI warns country will not spend 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product on research and development until 2053

May 14, 2019
Trying and failing during a PhD

An ambitious target to raise UK research and development spending to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product will not be reached until 2053 at the current rate of progress, business leaders have warned.

The government set itself the goal of reaching this level of public and private sector spending by 2027 in its industrial strategy two years ago, with the aim of eventually increasing this to 3 per cent of GDP.

But progress has been slow, and both industry and universities have complained of the difficulties involved in setting up successful collaborations. Now, the Confederation of British Industry says that the UK risks falling short of that target by 26 years.

In a report published on 14 May, The Changing Nature of R&D, the CBI calls on the government to “take the lead” in meeting the 2.4 per cent investment target by “publishing a comprehensive roadmap”, enabling industry leaders to work more efficiently towards that goal.

The report, published by the CBI with the University of Leeds for the launch of the institution’s £40 million Nexus innovation hub, makes a number of recommendations to alter this trajectory.

With research and development experiencing a shift towards software and services, industry-led research must make better use of data and “exploit opportunities to access new data”, the report suggests.

The establishment of a new “business advisory group” for public funding overseer, UK Research and Innovation, could also help to inform strategy, the report suggests, and “help ensure that innovation support is keeping pace with business priorities and needs”.

Universities should also act to increase the visibility of opportunities for businesses to connect, making collaborations simpler, the report concludes.

Lisa Roberts, deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Leeds, said that improved harnessing of data would “supercharge R&D” for businesses. She also stressed “the vital role universities have to play in supporting innovation and productivity…There has never been a better time for universities and businesses to collaborate to ensure we meet the 2.4 per cent target.”

Earlier this month, Chris Skidmore, the universities and science minister called for a change in attitude surrounding science and innovation across higher education and industry. For the 2.4 per cent target to be reached by 2027, he said, “we need to stop talking about jobs outside academia as being ‘second-choice careers’ or ‘Plan B options’”.

An additional 260,000 researchers will be needed to work in R&D across universities and businesses if the UK is to meet its targets, he added.

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