In the midst of the chaos of this year’s Clearing and Confirmation period, research and innovation seem like a far-off daydream. But while we wait for the dust to settle on student numbers, campus reopening, and teaching during the “new normal”, let’s take a moment to review what the Government has said so far about research funding and priorities.
Loans and Grants
Two major announcements were made back in late June / early July, which feels like years ago. Firstly, the Government announced a package of funding support to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on our ability to do research. This offered institutions extra research funding in the form of loans and grants, including the extension of current UKRI-funded grants to enable projects to be completed and the ability to reallocate underspend between UKRI-funded projects.
We are currently setting up a process for the UKRI extension so we can make sure staff on those projects can keep working, and have the resources they need to complete their work.
However, the majority of this funding support will be the low-cost, long-term loans. The amount we can apply for is based on our potential loss of international student fee income, capped at the level of our non-publicly funded research income, so research income from businesses, charities, and other such sources.
More details on these loans are due out in the autumn, but we are already thinking about whether they are the right option for us, and how they might be used to respond to the Government’s priority areas.
The R&D Roadmap
Those priority areas were set out in the second announcement, where the Government’s UK Research & Development (R&D) Roadmap was released.
The Roadmap is the first stage of a bigger project, and will be developed into a “comprehensive plan” over the next few months. Its focus is on “pursuing ground-breaking research, attracting global talent, and cutting unnecessary red tape”.
While there are some specific proposals and actions, a lot is open for consultation. However, the Roadmap does give some useful indications of what the Government prioritises, and therefore where a need is perceived and where there is going to be funding and other resource, including action to tackle “barriers” such as bureaucracy.
Key proposals include the setting up of a “Office for Talent” to help make it easier to bring the very best researchers to the UK, and a new body, based on the US body DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), to channel funding towards “moonshots”, or large-scale, ambitious, risky projects with the potential to generate significant outcomes.
There is, as ever, a strong focus on STEM areas, but the Roadmap also promises a new People Strategy to support talent development, and a Place Strategy to help develop local and regional strength.
The Roadmap offers a number of opportunities for universities, from securing funding to research STEM “moonshots” to providing training and development for current and potential “global talent” in research.
One thing is for sure – as we face the challenges of student recruitment and teaching, we can’t take our eye off the Research ball. Our research is at the heart of what we have to offer. As well as sharing new knowledge and developing solutions that improve society, and ensuring we provide the very best, research-led teaching, our unique research strengths are a vital differentiator, raising our visibility and making it clear what we do and what we care about for students who are choosing where to study.
If we want to secure the funding to keep our unique and important research going, we need to engage with the Government’s R&D agenda.