Supplementary submission from the Association
of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)
The Association of Medical Research Charities
(AMRC) is pleased to submit supplementary evidence to the Innovation,
Universities, Science and Skills Committee inquiry: "Putting
science and engineering at the heart of Government policy."
AMRC welcomes the debate recently initiated
by the Science Minister, Lord Drayson, on whether the UK should
identify those areas of science and innovation in which the UK
has clear competitive advantage and invest accordingly. In general
terms, we support the notion that it is important to focus on
those areas where the UK is, or has the potential to be, a leader
and/or secure the greatest public benefit. We would argue strongly
that medical and health research is one of those areas.
Notwithstanding this, and in order for such a debate
to be constructive, we believe that the Government needs to be
very clear about its desired outcomes for taking this course and
the criteria by which it would propose defining "competitive
advantage." It must also address `cultural' and other factors
it believes are important contributors to the UK's success to
date and its future performance. Naturally, we would argue strongly
that a strong and viable research charity sector is one such feature.
The Committee will be aware of the fact that
the Office for the Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research
(OSCHR) is conducting its own exercise to identify "National
Ambitions" and "Research Opportunities" in medical
and health research. Many of our member charities have been involved
in the various consultations it has undertaken to identify these
and we applaud the fact that OSCHR has been clear from the outset
about the underlying principles of this exercise as well as the
anticipated framework within which its conclusions will be set
(ie ensuring the right balance between basic versus translational
In sum, we believe that OSCHR's approach has been
important in assuaging concerns thus far about the consequences
of such an exercise for particular areas of research, and provides
a useful model for how a similar exercise could be conducted across
the breadth of science and innovation and within particular fields.
A key driver behind recent Ministerial statements
has, of course, been the economic downturn. Medical research charities
are not immune from the impact of the recession and it would perhaps
be helpful to the Committee's deliberations to have sight of some
of the findings of an AMRC survey of its members conducted in
March about the impact of the recession on their research funding.
The full results will be published next month.
The overwhelming majority of AMRC's
members (76.6%) describe the effect of the downturn on their charity
as either very significant (12.5%) or significant (64.3%).
Over a quarter of medical research charities
(25.9%) are planning to reduce their research funding in 2009-2010.
Over half (51.9%) are planning to keep research funding at the
same level as for the previous year and just under a tenth (9.3%)
of respondents are planning to increase their research funding.
Two-thirds of AMRC's members are
considering co-funding opportunities (63.9%) as a way of mitigating
the impact of the economic downturn. Also under consideration
are: cutting administrative costs and streamlining processes (47.2%)
and delaying grant rounds/restricting funding streams (44.4%).
Over a third were thinking of reducing the number of grant rounds
Charity research funding is a vital component
of the dual support system for ensuring the sustainability of
university research. In 2008-09 AMRC's members spent £936
million (one third of all public expenditure) on medical and health
research across the UK, and over 70% of this went to Higher Education
Based on these findings we believe that there
will be a significant and worrying drop in research funding by
medical research charities in 2009-10 and a knock-on impact for
HEIs which is likely to continue into the following year if not
beyond. This can only add to the uncertainties and pressures being
felt by universities, institutions and their research staff and
hinder their competitiveness.
Against this background we support the calls
that have been made by others for a coherent and ongoing Government
effort to support science as a key part of its strategy for the
UK to emerge strongly from the recession, beginning with this
year's Budget Statement. And it must recognise the different components
that currently contribute to the UK's competitiveness.
In our view this strategy must recognise the pivotal
role played by medical research charities in supporting quality
research if charity funding is to remain a strong income stream
for science in the future. To achieve this the Government must
commit to the long-term future of, and appropriate funding for,
the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) which it established
in 2004 to assist universities in covering a proportion of university
overheads incurred on grants awarded by charities. As one of our
member charities said in response to our survey:
"If, as reported in the news, the Government
is considering a stimulus package for science, including additional
support for the Charity Research Support Fund would... recognise
[Sic] the excellence of charity-funded research and contribute
to university sustainability and planning."