With the pandemic still in full flow, many questions have been raised around funding and the priorities for the government going forward.  I wanted to reflect on the last spending review and highlight some of the areas that I thought would impact the University the most.  

The government’s priority areas were evident, including climate change and clean energy, infrastructure, defence, place and “levelling up”, and of course Covid-19. The good news is that research and innovation are clearly seen as a route for addressing these challenges, and we are well placed to address these at the University, with our Themes being at the forefront.

Like much last year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s annual Spending Review for 2020 was significantly impacted by Covid-19, focusing on tackling the pandemic, mitigating the harm it’s causing people and the country, and starting along the road to recovery.  As such, many areas that would be of interest to the higher education sector were absent. However, in keeping with the government’s emphasis on R&D, there were some announcements around research and innovation priorities and funding streams, including for the new high-risk, high-reward funding body, for UKRI, and for the British Business Bank.

The government will be investing almost £15bn in R&D funding next year (2021/22).  There will also be specific fundings for key areas, including £128m for vaccine research, and £280m towards reaching the government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, with £81m for low and zero emission transport technologies.

Some longer-term investments were also highlighted, including the National Academies and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) core research budgets, which will grow by more than £400 million on average per year for the next three years. Other specific areas include £6.6bn over 4 years for defence R&D, £695m over 4 years to develop “cutting edge capabilities” in intelligence and security, and £800m towards “high risk, high payoff” research via a scheme modelled on the US ARPA funding agency.

Although it remains to be seen how much of this is new funding, these are all areas of interest for us, with potential both to gain investment in our research and to make a contribution to the development of new knowledge.

Innovation too sees some investment, with at least £490m for Innovate UK’s core budgets in 2021/22, an additional £56.5m to expand the British Business Bank’s Start-Up Loans for entrepreneurs and new businesses, and £50.7 million for business support programmes to improve SME productivity through leadership, management and technology adoption.

We now also know more about how Brexit will affect our access to European research funding, with the long-term trade and cooperation agreement struck on the 24 December meaning we will be associating to the Horizon Europe programme. So please keep putting in those bids!

I know it’s been a difficult year. We still have challenges ahead of us, but we also have new, exciting opportunities.The government’s ongoing commitment to R&D offers the University a great chance to continue to engage regionally, nationally and globally in the kind of world-leading, world-changing research and innovation that we need and that we can excel at.