The UK has one of the most productive research systems in the world. With just 1% of the world’s population the UK now produces about 16% of the world’s most highly-cited scientific articles and ranks 2nd in the world for the quality of its scientific research institutions.
Scientists, engineers and other researchers make a major contribution to the country’s long-term economic growth and ability to tackle social, health and environmental challenges.
The strong international reputation of UK research relies on funding excellent science across a broad portfolio with researchers, rather than politicians, determining research priorities.
In 2015, the UK’s national academies published Building a stronger future, recommending that the Government create a long-term investment environment for research, innovation and skills.
Although some research results can be rapidly exploited, many developments require longer time scales. For example the laser, now used in applications as diverse as eye surgery and DVD players, was invented in 1960 through the development of basic ideas Einstein had developed 40 years earlier.
A broad portfolio of research investment is also required for research to flourish, encompassing the continuum of research, from discovery science, through translation, onto innovation and the development of new technologies. It is important to maintain the independence of science, as researchers are best placed to determine which research should be funded.
A long-term framework for investment in research would ensure that discovery and innovation are not hampered by the drive for rapid results.
Keeping pace on research funding
Research in universities and research institutions is funded by Government, charities and industry. The Royal Society allocates about £42m to 1,500 researchers each year. Our funding sources include a grant from government as well as donations from individuals and organisations.
In 2015, the Society published Research, innovation and growth, urging the Government to commit to levels of public investment in research that keep pace with other knowledge economies. Public and charitable funding constitutes around a quarter of research funding, supporting more than £6bn worth of research in universities and research institutes.
Public and charitable investment in research also helps to attract further investment from business. A strong commitment from industry to investing in research and development is essential to the health of the UK’s science base.
Demand for research skills
Research skills open the doors to jobs in many sectors where the analytical and problem-solving skills acquired through doing scientific research are greatly prized. However, the UK faces an urgent shortage of research skills. By 2020, over one million new workers will be required to fill science, engineering and technology roles.
Our Vision for science and mathematics education seeks to link people’s learning and skills to the current and future needs of the economy. These skills are vital if the UK is to remain competitiveinternationally and to ensure that people are productively employed throughout their lives.
We are also investigating ways to remove barriers within the scientific workforce raised by gender, ethnicity, disability and socio-economic status. The research workforce must become more diverse, giving equal opportunity to all available talent.