Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 73

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 research).

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 (36.1%).

  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 Institutions (HEIs).

  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."

April 2009

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