Research and development
The goal of investing £22 billion in R&D by 2024-25 is particularly promising in making the UK globally competitive. However, we’ll have to wait until the Spending Review later this year to find out more about how exactly this target will be achieved.
£400 million in 2020-21 for world-leading research, infrastructure and equipment in research institutes and universities could help to reverse the real-terms decline we have seen in sources like Quality Related funding.
It is disappointing to see that the government has chosen to increase the Immigration Health Surcharge to £624 – a rise of 56% risks losing out to competitors on global talent, despite pledges to increase R&D investment. This sends the wrong message to skilled workers around the world wanting to come to the UK.
‘Blue-skies’ ARPA-style fund
The confirmation of £800m committed towards creating a new blue-skies ARPA-style research agency is also encouraging. The Government must engage with the research community to finalise how this will work in practice, clarifying its goals and how it will deliver against them.
While today’s announcements are very positive for R&D, what we’re still lacking is transparency over how new and current streams of that investment fit together – investment in a system that effectively delivers this would attract vital private investment. We need the government to commit to delivering a digital shop window for R&D investment that clearly sets out all available funding streams, their purpose and source budgets.
Any future development in R&D activity requires a pipeline of talent, meeting the demand for highly skilled scientists to solve the global challenges human society faces. Today’s announcement contained very little on education generally and nothing concrete about the sciences specifically.
The commitment of £1.5 billion for FE college buildings and facilities will undoubtedly be welcomed by the sector but does not address the longer-term underfunding of 16-19 courses. It is essential that technical science courses receive a specific funding uplift to reflect that these vital courses are more expensive to deliver.
Laboratory technical skills are vital in delivering on R&D ambitions and so it is essential to provide targeted interventions to support these courses, as well as apprenticeships.
We are disappointed that the Chancellor made no commitment to protect university teaching grants for chemistry and related subjects. The Augar Review of Post-18 Education and Funding noted that the current system underfunds high-cost subjects such as the physical sciences. Further to this, the Office for Students suggest that in 2020-21 chemistry degrees will see a reduction in funding of approximately 6%.
We welcome the Budget’s acknowledgement of the importance of scientific research. However, support for university teaching in these subjects is vital to secure the pipeline of talent to fill the future R&D roles across the country that will help to level regional growth. Additionally, as teaching and research activities are frequently linked, reduction of department budgets risks limiting university R&D activity in the short term.
We hope that this year’s spending review will address this oversight, and ensure that both teaching and research in chemistry and related subjects are properly funded.
Sadly, there was no commitment from the Chancellor today to tackle teacher shortages through investment in schemes to improve teacher retention. We believe that every child should have an unbroken chain of experts teaching them throughout their school education.
Persistent teacher shortages in some subjects, including chemistry, make it unlikely that this aim will be met through increased recruitment alone, so supporting and developing the existing teaching workforce is vital.
We believe that deploying staff in line with their proven areas of expertise – and investing in a coherent programme of subject-specific training and development for all teachers throughout their careers – will improve teacher retention.