RESEARCH

UK amps up university research with record-high budget allocation

SOURCE: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash
The UK is driving innovation by spending more on research & development.

The UK government is pouring an additional £91 million into university-led research, taking annual budget allocations for the sector to a record high.

The news is a welcome announcement for the UK’s science communities, coming at a period of continued uncertainty over Brexit’s impact on the future of  UK research.

Universities and scientists across the country have warned that losing access to EU research funding in a no-deal Brexit would severely impede the country’s innovation agenda.

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With the latest funds injection, the UK government has committed to spending £2.2 billion on the people, partnerships and infrastructure necessary to carry out cutting-edge research across the 2019-2020 academic year. This includes additional contributions from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), supporting universities to implement the government’s Industrial Strategy.

The funding is part of an overarching government goal to boost spending on research and development to 2.4 percent of the GDP by 2027. The government has already committed to bumping up R&D investments by a further £7 billion by 2021, representing the largest increase yet in over 40 years. 

According to Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore, the new allocation includes a 2.3 percent increase in funding for mainstream quality-related (QR) research, seen as critical to keep the UK on the leading-edge of research innovation. 

Past funding, for example, has gone into supporting groundbreaking work at the University of Manchester’s Cancer Research Centre to improve clinical care and treatment for cancer patients. It has also supported research on critical solutions to real-world cybersecurity problems at the Cyber Security Innovation at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“I am delighted that for the first time since 2010, we have a significant uplift in QR funding for universities. One of my personal priorities has been to place universities at the heart of innovation for the future and I’m pleased to have worked to deliver on this,” Skidmore said Tuesday when announcing the funding boost.

“This announcement today marks an important recognition of university research and the need to invest more in flexible, curiosity-driven research that has tremendous benefits to developing our international standing as a research powerhouse.”

Significant in volume and value, QR funding represents the largest funding stream of Research England, the UK’s national research funding agency. It is put through a rigorous national assessment of excellence, the Research Excellence Framework, and plays a major role in shaping the research capacity and capability of the country and its institutions. 

According to the Russell Group, the peak body representing the UK’s leading research-intensive universities, without QR funding, the UK would not have “graphene, genomics, opto-electronics, cosmology research, and new tests and treatments for everything from bowel disease to diabetes, dementia and cancer.” 

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Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said the funding boost was a significant investment by the government into the future of UK research.

“Quality-related research funding plays a key role in developing new talent, strengthening research culture and building the skilled workforce the UK needs if we are to perform effectively as a modern knowledge economy,” he said.

“With many of the greatest research discoveries and advances having evolved from curiosity-driven research, it is critical that we continue to invest across all subject disciplines.”

Research
QR research plays a major role in shaping the research capacity and capability of the country and its institutions. Source: Shutterstock

The following is a breakdown of how the £91 million will be spent, according to Research England:

  • £45 million will be allocated to mainstream QR funding, increasing from £1,050 million in the 2018-2019 academic year to £1,095 million for 2019-2020. 
  • £23 million will go into ramping up Research England’s investments in national initiatives, supporting international research collaborations and increasing research capacity. The budget for the national facilities initiative will rise from £23 million to £46 million.
  • The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) will increase by £10 million to a total £68 million, boosting collaborations between universities and Official Development Assistance-eligible countries. 
  • £13 million will go towards Research England’s Strategic Priorities Fund, taking it from £16 million to £29 million. 
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The following funding streams will maintain at the same level as last year:

  • The Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) at £210 million
  • The charity research element of QR at £204 million. It was increased last year.
  • The QR business research element at £64 million
  • The postgraduate research degree supervision element of QR at £260 million. It was increased last year.
  • Funding for national research libraries at £7 million
  • HEI Research Capital England funding at £96 million
  • The Higher Education Research Capital England element at £87 million

From the total £2.2 billion budget, Research England also allocates individual amounts to each higher education institution, according to a set of criteria on the quality of research and knowledge exchange activity undertaken at the institution. Details of this can be found here.

The funding agency has written to inform all educational institutions of the new budget allocation for the new academic year. The individual allocations will be announced later this month.