Science Community Responds to the 2017 Budget

Posted on Apr 10, 2017

Following our briefing on science in the UK’s 2017 budget, here’s our round-up of the main reactions, comment, and analysis from the HE and research community. (Prepare yourself for overuse of the word “welcomed”).

The BBC did the most detailed analysis of the robotics, 5G, and driverless car funding announcement, part of the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF). They point out that the new investments in robotics and driverless cars are much lower than those being made in other countries, which might make it difficult for the UK to achieve the Government’s ambition to be a world leader in these technologies.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Noel Sharkey, a robotics expert at the University of Sheffield, said:

“The money means there will be more resources for universities, which may help them retain their staff. But it’s not nearly enough for all of the disruptive technologies being developed in the UK. The government says it want this to be the leading robotics country in the world, but Google and others are spending far more, so it’s ultimately chicken feed by comparison.”

In their response, CaSE director Sarah Main highlighted the need for the UK’s immigration policy to work in harmony with these announcements in order to attract and retain international talent, and  reiterated the standard warning to ensure that funding for specific initiatives doesn’t come at the expense of unallocated (or responsive mode) funding.

Russell Group policy experts Jessica Cole and Sarah Stevens welcomed the investments but also warned of the need for balance in the ratio between competitive funding and QR funding, which allows universities “to explore new opportunities in efficient and effective ways”.

In their official media response, the Russell Group focused on this being an affirmation of the Industrial Strategy – making a direct link between investments in talent and key research areas and future prosperity: creating jobs and wealth. Acting director of the Russell Group, Tim Bradshaw, also cited the international nature of the investments as a welcome sign ahead of Brexit.

“Moves to attract the best international talent to the UK are also welcome. International staff and students are fundamental to the work of our world-leading universities and our ability to attract the best from around the world pays huge dividends to the UK economy and society. This investment sends a positive signal about the Government’s long-term intentions ahead of Article 50 being triggered.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by RSC President Professor Sir John Holman who also said:

“Science is a human activity that depends on the free exchange of ideas, and this is a welcome sign of the government’s commitment to keeping UK science open to international exchange and collaboration.”

UKRI’s official response (by Innovate UK CEO Ruth McKernan and RCUK Chair Phil Nelson) said nothing (not even reading between the lines) beyond welcoming the announcement and reiterating some of the competitions it will fund.

The IoP’s Paul Hardaker called it a sign of the Government’s confidence in UK research and the IoP welcomed the support this offers for researchers as well as to technical education through the new T-levels.

The Royal Academy of Engineering, represented by Dame Ann Dowling, said:

“Improving productivity across the country is vital, and I am glad to hear of measures from the National Productivity Investment Fund to enhance digital infrastructure and tackle traffic congestion. Engineering currently underpins at least 20% of UK gross value added, and the changes announced today will help us to grow that contribution.”

See the RAEng’s full response here.

Unusually, there was no specific response by the Royal Society who had previously commented on the Chancellor’s major investment announcements in the 2016 Autumn Statement.



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