Chris Skidmore is Minister of State jointly at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He is MP for Kingswood.
Britain’s universities are home to some of the world’s brightest and best minds. Scientists and researchers are hard at work cracking the toughest problems, from modelling the polar ice-sheets to developing new antibiotics. Their ground-breaking work inspires young people and changes people’s lives. We rank first or second on most metrics, coming only behind the US – a country with far bigger budgets. It’s a great British success story.
But other countries have taken note and are massively scaling up their own efforts. Just look at China: they’ve committed to spending a whopping five per cent of their GDP on R&D. South Korea has already reached 4.3 per cent. The UK lags way behind at just 1.7 per cent.
This isn’t just a twenty-first century ‘science race’, like the space race of the last century. It matters because investing in R&D is the best way for modern economies to raise productivity, especially in the face of increased global competition. In 2016, the UK committed to reaching to 2.4 per cent by 2027. If we achieve this, it will revolutionise our economy. But it depends on getting two things right.
The first is about people. As we leave the EU, it is vital that the UK becomes even more attractive for international research talent. Earlier this year, we announced a new fast-track visa plan, designed to attract elite researchers and scientists to the UK.
And today, we are unveiling 78 new Future Leaders Fellows – helping early-career researchers to do their best work, benefitting from £78 million investment and access to our world-class universities. These people are truly inspiring – relocating from all over the world to continue their amazing work right here in the UK, such as new research into ocean oxidisation, violence against women, quantum thermodynamics and self-driving cars.
And we want to go further – ensuring that job offers turn into lasting careers in research. This means cutting red tape, eliminating bullying and discrimination, and unlocking the creativity of everyone working in research, whether in universities or industry.
That brings me to my second point. Raising productivity is important for government. But it is arguably even more important for industry. Over two-thirds of our national R&D is paid for by private funds. That is a sign of its value to the market, proving that innovation is the path to growth.
I am determined that our private and public R&D systems should work together as effectively as possible. This means universities, government and industry working together to share risks and to convert great ideas into new businesses, new industries and new products and services. Universities have shown themselves to be more than capable of playing their part. Just take the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, where universities have secured over £2bn from industry and private sources into 54 projects right across the UK.
To build on this, I’m delighted that the government is today unveiling 20 new University Enterprise Zones. Established with £20 million of government funding, these new UEZs will be based in universities right across the country, from Falmouth to Sunderland. These projects are all about creating a business-friendly environment, helping to build a bridge between academia and business. They will allow local start-ups to co-locate in universities, building the businesses of the future – inspired by university research.
In this way, the Government is supporting and encouraging strong relationships between our world-leading researchers and the business world that can best make use of their ideas. By fostering effective university-business links, we too can create the Stanford or MIT of the future – right here in the UK – ensuring science and research remains a remarkable success story for many years to come.