Supplementary submission from Universities
"PUTTING SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING AT
THE HEART OF GOVERNMENT POLICY"
Universities UK is the major representative
body for the higher education sector. It has 133 members who are
the executive heads of the universities in the UK, and works closely
with policy makers and key stakeholders to advance the interests
of universities and higher education.
1. Outlined below is our response to the
policy signals sent by Government recently regarding strategic
investment in science and innovation. Universities UK believes
that UK university-based research is already geared to be responsive
to economic changes and needs, and would urge recognition of existing
efforts to foster high-impact research. The current balance of
the existing dual support funding arrangement is vital to maintaining
such an effective research base.
2. In overseeing any debate or consultation,
or in the formulation of final policy, we would hope that Government
would not abandon its hitherto continued adherence to the Haldane
Principle that research decisions should be made by researchers.
3. Universities UK would also hope that any consultation
would involve universities from across the sector, not only those
specialising in science and engineering. Lord Drayson reassured
our members at the end of the February that when he talked of
"science" he meant it in the European sense, that is,
"knowledge" in all its forms. For good reason it has
often been pointed out that a possible investment priority such
as responses to climate change is an area on which research developments
in the arts, humanities and social sciences, as well as sciences,
must all be brought to bear.
4. Universities UK maintains that the existing
funding framework is appropriate for a responsive and successful
research base, and we would be wary of any substantial re-engineering
intended to cater for immediate economic concerns.
5. We believe that the notable success of UK
university-based research is due to its funding through the dual
support system, which allows both direction at the broad level
and responsiveness in the research base. The two main public sources
of funding in dual support- the block grants to universities and
the project-based research supported by the research councilsare
different in nature, but equal in importance.
6. The block grant made to universities
by the funding councils ensures a fertile and financially sustainable
research base. Much effort has been made in recent years to rebalance
the dual support funding to allow for this financial sustainability
which is essential for a thriving research base, and we do not
want this good work to be undone.
7. The block grants also do more than ensure
financial sustainability: they provide institutions with the flex
and ability to respond to new demands and challenges, allowing
risky or more innovative research to be supported when it might
otherwise slip through the net. Our 2006 publication, Eureka,
conveyed how many unexpected but world-changing innovations and
ideas have emerged from being given time to evolve in supportive
research cultures. We simply cannot afford to miss these opportunities.
All research areas rely heavily on this funding. The arts and
humanities, which have great economic relevance through the creative
industries, for example, is one such area.
8. It must also be remembered that, as well
as being unpredictable, the impact of research can have long lead
timesfar beyond immediate economic concerns. A recent report
from the Wellcome Trust, MRC and Academy of Medical Sciences shows
that the time lag between research expenditure and eventual health
benefits is around 17 years.
9. With regard to the funding of project-based
research by the Research Councils, work is already underway by
the Research Councils and HEFCE to help demonstrate and encourage
the impact of research investment: Research Councils are building
this into their grant process and HEFCE is considering how impact
can be recognised within the REF framework. Universities UK is
currently working with the Research Councils to explore how this
direction is being pursued in other ways, for example, through
academic promotion criteria.
10. We also support the cross-Research Council
priority themes that seek to establish multi-disciplinary approaches
that can address major societal challenges. These themes match
with many of the key priority areas the Government have identified.
Combined with the efforts to maximise impact of research funded
by the Research Councils (outlined in the previous paragraph),
this work has huge economic potential and we would welcome enhanced
support for it. (Any enhanced support for project-based research
however must always be matched by growth in the block grant for
universities, for reasons outlined above).
11. Again, Universities UK would be very
wary of any attempt to skew the current balance in the dual support
funding system. Attempts to focus research efforts any further
would risk closing off the broad but vital contribution that a
range of disciplines could make to key priorities such as climate
change research, as already noted.
12. Universities UK does not believe that
Government should be "picking winners", not least because,
where university-based research is concerned, this is far from
an exact science. Such a government-led policy might also risk
undermining cross-disciplinary collaboration, which is already
recognised (by Research-Council allocations) as a common and important
feature of some high-impact research in key priority areas such
as climate change.
13. Again, we would urge policy-makers to recognise
the success of the UK's research base, and to understand that
its dynamism and responsiveness is due in no small part to the
balanced dual support system that currently exists.