Industrial Strategy: science and STEM skills Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Science, research and innovation

1.The welcome additional £2 billion a year of funding recently promised by the Government represents a valuable contribution to sustaining the country’s world-leading science status. It will help maintain the UK as an attractive location for science and research. This should be regarded as a down-payment on a trajectory for increasing R&D investment—in private and public sectors together—to the 3% of GDP target which we and others have previously advocated. Within that context, the Government must be ready to ensure that its science funding makes up any net shortfall in research funding available through international collaborative research as a result of Brexit. (Paragraph 13)

2.It is clear from the Green Paper and from UKRI that the Government envisages a relative shift of focus in its funding towards innovation. To some degree that reflects a changing world with increasingly multi-disciplinary challenges, but it also reflects a Government desire to reassess the relative weight given in funding different areas of research. A responsive UKRI, and a multi-disciplinary approach to its strategies and science funding, will make changing research priorities easier to implement to reflect our post-Brexit opportunities. As such, it will be a crucial participant in making the UK’s industrial strategy a success, not least in terms of providing the coordinated support needed for innovation, including the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. (Paragraph 19)

3.The broad innovation thrust of the Industrial Strategy Green Paper has been largely welcomed, including the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund announced last November and the Government’s approach of allowing sectors to take the lead in making the case for ‘sector deals’. How well such initiatives translate into the improved productivity that the Green Paper seeks will depend on how extensively and imaginatively they are taken up. Their impact will only become apparent in the years ahead. In the meantime, the Government should clarify in the next iteration of the industrial strategy the relationship between the sectors deals and ISCF, and UKRI’s role in these initiatives in the period before the organisation is fully up and running. (Paragraph 30)

4.There are aspects of the Green Paper which are likely to facilitate the greater ‘supply’ of technology transfer from university research, including the prospect of a broadened SBRI. We welcome the Government’s decision to review the practices of universities’ technology transfer offices, and look to it to take forward the agenda for improvement that we presented in our recent report on managing intellectual property and technology transfer. If, as we hope, the Green Paper’s initiatives have a favourable impact on economic growth, that could in turn help improve the ‘demand’ that is needed from businesses for the outputs of university research. (Paragraph 39)

5.A regulatory regime that is well-crafted and relevant to our post-Brexit international research and trading relationships will be vital for a successful industrial strategy. The next iteration of the industrial strategy must give a fuller indication of the relationship with the proposed post-Brexit regulatory environment, and present a closer and more explicit alignment with the Government’s Brexit strategic aims. (Paragraph 43)

Closing the STEM skills gap

6.Encouraging students from an early age to have an understanding of science needs to be a priority if the UK is to stay at the forefront of research and innovation. While there have been extensive reforms in the national curriculum, which will be difficult for teachers and students alike to absorb, it must be kept relevant for students’ STEM skills needs as they enter a continually evolving workplace. Continuing reforms will need to be evidence-based, however, to reflect not just what employers need but also the evidence on what initiatives—many at a local scale—are most effective in increasing and sustaining young people’s interest in science and what really influences their study subject choices. We recommend therefore that the Government review the initiatives that have been submitted to our STEM skills gap inquiry, and work with the learned societies, national academies and professional bodies to identify best practice and opportunities for scaling up their wider use and Government support. (Paragraph 61)

7.Degree-level programmes are not suited to everyone, nor is it always the most appropriate way to develop STEM skills. There have been too few clear and well recognised routes into skilled and highly paid roles in STEM-related areas as alternatives to university degree courses. The announcement of the new T’ level is therefore a welcome development. (Paragraph 62)

8.The Green Paper provides no new information on how the apprenticeships programme will be implemented, beyond previous announcements, nor how it will be further developed to fill emerging STEM skills gaps. The next iteration of the industrial strategy initiative should address this. (Paragraph 66)

9.In agreeing this report on the day that the Prime Minister triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, we reiterate our earlier call for the Government to give a firm commitment to EU researchers working and studying in the UK that they will continue to have a secure position in the UK post-Brexit. (Paragraph 69)


10.There is a weakness in the industrial strategy in that it could give more room for discussing or even acknowledging its links with Brexit. The industrial strategy must be configured to shape our Exit negotiations, but equally those negotiations will affect what can be achieved through the industrial strategy as well as how the different measures envisaged should be prioritised and re-prioritised. (Paragraph 74)

11.The complicating factor of Brexit, which could in time render the industrial strategy over-ambitious or under-ambitious depending on the terms of the Exit and how well our new research and trading relationships with others turn out, makes it difficult to set a yardstick for judging the eventual success of the strategy—the possible scenarios are perhaps inevitably too difficult to map out at this stage. This is, nevertheless, an area that the Government must address as the Brexit negotiations get under way and the industrial strategy evolves in what we hope will be dynamic document. (Paragraph 75)

5 April 2017