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Investing in UK Research and Development

16 May 2018

There is broad consensus across the political spectrum to increase total investment in UK research and development (R&D). The Government has committed to meet a target of 2.4% of GDP invested in UK R&D by 2027, and a longer-term goal of 3%.

Increasing overall investment is the target. To deliver this, the UK’s Industrial Strategy will need to create a vibrant environment that fosters research and innovation throughout UK public services, universities and businesses and attracts global investment, incentivising companies to locate their R&D here. Only by doing this will we improve the health and wealth of the nation.

In 2016, £33.1bn was invested in R&D in the UK (up from £31.8bn in 2015)

Source: ONS

Here we outline the current investment landscape, why the 3% target is important for the UK and factors that should be considered to deliver it.

*Please note: This page was updated on 16 May 2018.

What is R&D? 

R&D is defined as creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications. It includes basic research, applied research and experimental development. 

Innovation often draws on R&D, but R&D is not always part of the activity of innovation. An innovation is defined as the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations3.

A fresh case for investing in research and innovation 

The National Academies have recognised the need to better understand the benefits that Research and Innovation bring to the UK, the distribution of those benefits across the country and its population, and how best to measure these. Rather than simply refining the case for more investment, we want to understand the benefits of this investment in order to spend smarter. To that end, the Academies have assembled a Steering Group of experts, chaired by Lord David Willetts, to oversee research commissions to create new and compelling evidence to support future investment.  

Two evidence syntheses, to be completed by summer 2018, on measuring the benefits of research and innovation and the conditions needed to translate research and drive innovation are the first step in developing an evidence base to better describe the conditions needed to ensure the continued excellence of the UK’s outstanding research and innovation base and its delivery of benefits, broadly understood, to the UK’s people. It should, in part, provide a mapping exercise to help understand what gaps there are to fill. This will help the Academies to understand what further evidence is needed to make a ‘fresh case for investment in research and innovation’ and provide advice to Government to inform major spending decisions.

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