Innovation and Research Strategy
08 December 2011
Commenting on the publication of the Government’s Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of leading universities said:
“We welcome today’s new Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth. We are pleased that it recognises that universities are fundamental to the creation of knowledge and our nation’s innovative capacity, and that investing in the kind of blue-skies research that our institutions excel at is essential to sustainable economic growth. After all, our economic competitors in China, India and European competitors like France are boosting investment in their best research institutions. 
“Our competitors clearly recognise that investment in research is the key to growth. It is vital that our leading universities can access the resources necessary to remain on top.”
“We welcome the Government reaffirming its commitment to capital investment, with an extra £495M committed to a number of national initiatives since the Spending Review. However, we should remember that additional capital funding also needs to be directed to universities – world-class research and teaching infrastructure is essential to economic growth. Cuts to capital spend for universities indicated in last year’s Spending Review will still create serious difficulties for UK universities.”
“It is a myth that the UK is good at research but poor at innovation. Russell Group universities generate ground-breaking research. They also have considerable experience partnering with many UK and global businesses, generating major new products and world-beating spin-out companies.
“The increased funds for innovation vouchers, and the Technology Strategy Board to enable more small businesses to develop innovative products and services, are welcome. The new £180 million ‘Biomedical Catalyst’ fund should boost our universities’ efforts to attract outside investment.
“We are pleased that the Government has recognised some of our concerns about the so-called ‘valley of death’ - when many researchers struggle to attract funds to turn cutting-edge research from good ideas into great products. But Government must do more to facilitate this process. Too many new ideas are not being developed to a stage where they can be a commercial success and of benefit to the wider public because of problems in accessing funds.”
“We are disappointed that the Strategy does not acknowledge the critical role of postgraduate study in maintaining and enhancing the UK’s strengths in research and innovation. We would like to see the Government address concerns about postgraduate funding, or adopt the Russell Group proposal for a bank loan scheme for postgraduates.  If postgraduates in crucial fields do not receive the support and recognition they deserve, we risk squandering the talent of some of our brightest graduates.”
“We agree that as a nation, we need to gain the full potential benefits of publicly-funded research. Russell Group universities are committed to openness, accountability and transparency. However, transparency must be balanced with the need for the right timing of disclosure – releasing research data too early on may hinder reaping the full economic and social benefit from new ideas. We also believe that FOI law should explicitly exempt research, enabling universities to better protect their data and teaching materials in a highly competitive environment and to reduce expensive bureaucracy.”
Clusters and critical mass
“We welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of clusters, and their contribution to economic growth. The UK’s world-class universities have made significant contributions to a number of clusters, including the world-leading cluster around Cambridge that is highlighted in the strategy. Our leading universities have the critical mass of talent, resources and infrastructure to make a real difference. We look forward to working with Government to develop their proposals for a principles-based framework, to encourage cluster development.”
Notes to editors
 France recently boosted its higher education budget for 2012 by 2.5% while cutting spending in other areas.This is on top of putting universities at the centre of the French stimulus spending plan, with €7.7bn concentrated on leading institutions in order to compete with the best universities.
 The Russell Group provided an overview of private finance options in its second submission to the Browne Review, and we have suggested that the Government consider the applicability of these, and any other private finance options, for providing support to postgraduate students. Some other innovative models have been proposed more recently which may also be worthy of further consideration (see for example Leunig, T. Mastering Postgraduate Funding, Centre Forum, Oct 2011.)