UK to review research system to uncover ‘missing’ elements

‘Don’t always stick with what you have,’ says science minister Amanda Solloway, as new innovation strategy points to US and German models

July 26, 2021
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The UK is to review its entire research system to see whether certain types of institutions or disciplines are “missing”, the country’s science minister has said.

Speaking after the launch of a new national innovation strategy, Amanda Solloway said she wanted to run the rule over the UK’s research landscape to make sure it was “the best that it can be”.

While largely aimed at private research and development, the strategy, launched on 22 July, does contain several proposals that will impact universities, including a pledge to “undertake an independent review to assess the landscape of UK organisations undertaking all forms of research, development and innovation”.

“The premise is to have a look at what we have on offer and [ask] if what we have on offer is the best it can be,” Ms Solloway told Times Higher Education.

To date there are few details of exactly what the review will encompass or whether its findings will lead to any kind of policy shift. “I don’t know what it will lead to, because we haven’t seen the results of the review,” said Ms Solloway.

However, it will be led by Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute.

“One size does not fit all, with different types of research and innovation being suited to different lab structures, funding agencies and locations,” the innovation strategy says. “We must continue to learn from the best in the world.”

It points to the US, which has a “much larger network of national labs than the UK” and Germany’s Max Planck and Fraunhofer Societies, which “provide weight and coherence across a diverse mix of research, development and innovation activities”.

The review “will highlight the strengths to be nurtured and any comparative weaknesses to be tackled and make recommendations for addressing them”.

It could focus on a lack of certain disciplines or types of institutions, Ms Solloway said. It will ask “if there is something that is obviously missing”, she said.

Another focus of the strategy is the creation of so-called “innovation missions”, which will be “bold, specific, measurable and timed” challenges.

The precise missions are yet to be determined by the UK’s newly created National Science and Technology Council.

The strategy leaves open the door for these missions to be international endeavours and not just for UK-based scientists.

“We will strive to work with our partners to accelerate progress on missions – and related shared commitments on EU Horizon missions and the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” it says.

The UK will also create a new “high potential individual” visa route for those who have “graduated from a top global university”.

“There will be no job offer requirement, giving individuals the flexibility to work, switch jobs or employers and make contributions to the UK economy,” it says, although it does not define “top global university”.

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