Government departments have been urged to publish their plans on how research and development (R&D) targets will be achieved, in a report by the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.
The starting point of the report on the balance and effectiveness of R&D is the government’s commitment to raise R&D investment to 2.4% by 2027 and reach 3% of GDP in the longer term.
While the committee sees the target positively, it called for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to publish their roadmaps by no later than the end of 2019, setting out plans to achieve the goal, with a vision beyond the eight-year timescale.
“Although we welcome the government’s commitment to substantially increase research and development funding, a plan is now needed on how this target will be achieved,” said the chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Norman Lamb.
“We are already behind international competitors such as Germany and France, and we can’t fall further behind,” he noted. R&D spend in those two countries is 2.3% and 2.9% respectively, according to Unesco data. In the UK, spending reached 1.69% in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Commenting on opportunities for improvement in the national strategy and coordination of research funding for the next eight years, the committee noted that more immediate changes were needed.
Norman Lamb, Science and Technology Committee
The topic of funding concentration is one of the key highlights in the report, which argued that regional research excellence should be encouraged outside the area between London, Oxford and Cambridge.
“The government should aim to build further research excellence outside of its existing predominance in the south-east of England,” the report noted. “We strongly agree that additional regional funding should not be to the detriment of this ‘golden triangle’.”
Recommendations to UKRI also include “significantly increasing” the size of the Strength In Places Fund to address the issue of funding concentration.
UKRI should extend its analysis of balance around funding decisions beyond the dual support system, the report noted, considering factors such as regional concentration of funding, balance between research and innovation, and between capital and current spending.
In addition, the committee noted that quality-related R&D funding had not been prioritised in funding decisions and recommended that a focus on that should be maintained in future decisions, with additional support provided for smaller, but potentially fast-growing institutions.