Making the UK the best place to do research and innovation

10 February 2015

The new Government elected in May 2015 has an opportunity to build on our strengths and help make the UK the best place in the world to do research and innovation according to a statement published by the National Academies today (10 February).

Building a stronger future sets out what the next Government will need to do to ensure a strong research and innovation base that helps people in the UK lead healthier, fuller and better lives.

The National Academies urge the next Government to adopt the following priorities in order to make the UK the location of choice for world class research, development and innovation:

• Place research and innovation at the heart of plans for long-term economic growth.
• Secure prosperity by strengthening public investment in research and innovation.
• Meet demand for research skills through a flexible and diverse workforce.
• Strengthen policy by embedding expert advice across Government.

The statement calls on the next Government to create an environment that attracts more industrial and charitable investment in research and innovation, in addition to that from Government. It also emphasises the need for more teachers with specialist subject knowledge at all stages of education.

Lord Stern of Brentford Kt, FBA, FRS, President of the British Academy, said:

“Research drives innovation and innovation drives growth and a healthy society and democracy. The UK already produces some of the most cutting edge research in the world – 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited articles come from the UK and it ranks 2nd for the quality of its scientific institutions. However, we cannot take this leadership in research for granted. Top quality research and innovation can help us tackle some of the challenges that the UK faces as a society - improving health, producing more sustainable energy and bringing stronger education and skills across the whole workforce. 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.”

Speaking about the need for a flexible and diverse workforce, Professor Dame Ann Dowling DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

"We need high quality skills across all disciplines to meet the demand from the UK research and innovation base and the wider economy. 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. 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"'

The statement points to the need for Government policies that support our education system, increase the numbers of teachers with specialist subject knowledge at all stages of education and reinstate a balance between research and teaching activities in higher education.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said:

“Research and innovation is important for tackling challenges that face the UK and world today, including current issues such as ebola, economic recovery and volcanic eruptions disrupting air travel. As policymakers become increasingly dependent on complex evidence, it becomes ever more important that they have access to world-leading scientific experts and advice. Whether they are considering national security or how we pay for the care of older people, Government needs easy and transparent routes to this advice.”

Professor Sir John Tooke PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

"UK research is world leading. The innovation it drives is crucial for economic recovery and is the foundation of a knowledge economy. Long term investment which grows to match international competitors will benefit all of society. Support for medical science, for example, offers NHS patients the prospect of new and more effective treatments. The next Government must commit to making the UK the best place in the world to undertake such work to realise the clear social and economic gains it generates."

Building a stronger future: Research, innovation and growth, is a joint statement from the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.

Further support for the statement

Patrick Vallance, President, Pharmaceuticals R&D at GSK:

“The UK has an outstanding, world-class science base where great scientific discoveries are made and translated into clinical benefit – that’s why GSK continues to significantly invest in research here. By partnering with academics and clinicians, we support the translation of publicly-funded research into patient and economic benefit. Long term investment in research and innovation is essential to create a really vibrant exciting ecosystem for biomedical advances and to ensure the UK retains its position as a scientific global leader.”

Melvyn Bragg, Baron Bragg, FRS, FBA, FRSA, FRSL, FRTS:

“This joint statement from the National Academies is vital to help engage people and our government with the necessity of research and innovation, and importantly that the UK is the best place in the world to do this. We all yearn to live in a modern, thriving society that improves people’s well-being and supports essential freedoms, and academic research helps us achieve. Research and innovation can help us understand and address some of the biggest challenges we face in an increasingly uncertain world which is why funding for research must be retained. British Universities are second only to American Universities at the moment. It is an incredible achievement and it would be such a loss for the country and for students present and future were the support for the Universities to be so dramatically diminished.”

Mary Beard, FBA and Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge:

"The argument for public funding of research seems to me an absolute no-brainer. Research, across all disciplines, enables not just all kinds of new advances but also all kinds of new understanding of what it means to be a human being. We all know that advancing technology demands hard thought about how that technology is going to be received, and about the historical, moral, ethical ideas that it raises. All this costs money. To continue to make discoveries and face up to their implications, you have to pay people to do it - it's as simple as that. This joint statement offers a fundamental point to our government: research is vital to our evolving understanding of the world and how we are going to choose to live in it."

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust:

“A strong multidisciplinary research ecosystem is essential to generate returns for health, society and the economy. As the recent Medical Research: What’s it worth report shows, every £1 from the public purse spent in this area alone returns 40p to the economy every year. We urge all parties to read and support this well-considered statement – long-term investment science is too important to be a party political issue.”

Naomi Weir, Acting Director, CaSE:

"The combined voice of the four national academies is a something that 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. 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."

Sherry Coutu, co-chair of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK and founder of Interactive Investor:

“The UK has long been a hub for research and innovation – we don’t want to lose that competitive edge. Innovation strengthens our businesses and boosts our economy. A 1% increase in the number of high-growth firms could create an additional 238,000 jobs and add £38 billion to GVA within three years. The next Government needs to show a firm commitment to research as soon as it take power. The priorities laid out by the National Academies are an excellent place to start.”