COLLABORATION

Collaboration takes centre stage in the UK’s new innovation strategy

SOURCE: Franck V/Unsplash
The UK's new strategy aims to solidify its position as global leader in innovation.


By Emma Richards 

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Future international research and innovation collaborations between our people, our organisations and institutions, and our innovative businesses are vital to the UK’s future prosperity, was the sentiment of UK Minister of Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore, on Tuesday.

Addressing the EUREKA summit in Manchester, Skidmore made the government’s case for Britain retaining its position as a leader in science, research and innovation. As part of the presentation, the minister unveiled Britain’s roadmap to ensure this happens.

Taking centre stage in the government’s new International Research and Innovation Strategy was collaboration and openness.

“The International Research and Innovation Strategy reflects our aspirations to see the UK draw systematically on research and innovation collaboration to build its economic growth and face down our global challenges,” said Skidmore.

Global leader

The UK has earned its position as a global leader in the field of research and innovation. With only 0.9 percent of the world’s population, and 4.1 percent of researchers, the country accounts for 10.7 percent of citations and 15.2 percent of the world’s most highly cited articles.

This high-level of academic research paired with a robust innovation ecosystem – supported by physical and digital infrastructure, world-class talent, and an enabling regulatory environment – has placed the UK in the top four of global innovation nations.

In 2017 the UK brought in US$4 billion or more than 2.5 percent of global venture capital funding.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is booming in the country. Investment from venture capitalists in AI startups grew by 17 percent in 2018, reaching a total of US$1.3 billion, almost as much as the rest of Europe combined.

A report from Dealroom shows an almost six-fold increase over five years, up from a total of US$200 million in 2014. In comparison, French AI startups raised US$400 million last year, while Germany raised just US$300 million.

Built on collaboration

The progress has been impressive. But, crucially, the UK understands the reason for its reputation – and the basis of its future success – is built firmly on a foundation of collaboration.

While it may have some of the best universities in the world – indeed, 97 percent of UK universities are in the top 5 percent globally – they haven’t achieved their success in a vacuum. Over half of the UK’s scientific papers have international co-authors, and 72 percent of active researchers in the UK are internationally mobile.

The strategy released this week embraces this collaborative philosophy and aims to expand on it; labelling the UK’s universities open for business. Central to the policy is connecting researchers and entrepreneurs, supporting their development, and the translation of their ideas into commercially viable products.

“We will work with our universities, research institutes, the academic and business communities to promote and facilitate international collaboration and use their networks and influence to build new partnerships that produce excellent research and innovation,” reads the strategy paper.

Making plans reality

While the country has ambitious goals, Skidmore made it clear they have the initiatives and funding to support it.

Numerous schemes to bring academia and business together are listed in the report. In order to attract the brightest researchers and innovators from around the world, the department will enable access to a network of incubators and accelerators for them to develop their talents and turn their research into innovative businesses.

The government’s commitments include ensuring visa arrangements support international researchers, innovators, their teams and their families. They are also expanding the Knowledge Exchange Framework to support closer working between industry and academia, with the aim of “promoting a culture of continuous improvement in knowledge exchange.”

Regional DFID technology acceleration platforms will work with Innovate UK – the UK’s innovation agency – and their Knowledge Transfer Network to ensure linkages between networks of UK and African entrepreneurs and the private sector.

More than £900 million (US$1.15 billion) is going into the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund which is supporting new research centres and facilities via strategic partnerships between universities, businesses and charities. The plan is to bolster this fund further by turning to private co-investment with estimates that it could as much as double.

Higher Education Innovation Fund, which facilitates knowledge-based interactions between universities and the wider world, is expected to increase to £250 million (US$320 million) by 2020.

Putting their money where their mouth is

The UK is not just talk when it comes to keeping its innovation reputation. While the UK economy is going through a turbulent period, the government is ensuring the R&D sector is well looked after.

In 2017, the UK invested £34.8 billion (US$44 billion) in R&D across all sectors, the equivalent to 1.7 percent of GDP. But they have plans to better that and have made a public commitment to ensuring 2.4 percent of GDP is invested in research and development by 2027. To achieve this, investment will need to increase to around £70 billion, doubling in nominal terms.

They are well on their way to achieving it. The Conservative Party’s Industrial Strategy, unveiled at the end of 2017, has already set out an additional £7 billion (US$9 billion) to be spent on research and development by 2022, making it the largest increase in the UK for nearly 40 years.

Beyond 2027, the plan is to set the R&D spend at three percent of GDP, ensuring a robust fund for expansion.

In otherwise uncertain times for Britain, the UK is building its future on the collective strength of its research and innovation community. Styling itself as a destination where ideas can turn into new global businesses.

As Skidmore says, “In future, our businesses won’t just be entering new markets, but they’ll be making them.”