IPL Speaker Series

What Next for UK Science and Innovation Policy?

May 7, 2020 | 2:00PM - 4:00PM
Innovation Policy Lab

This event has been cancelled

The UK was an industrial and scientific pioneer and introduced government funding for investigator-driven (‘basic’) research through arms-length, scientist-led agencies decades earlier than the US. Yet the country has, for just as long, fretted about its lack of technological competitiveness, and for several decades the R&D/GDP ratio of less than 1.7% has stubbornly resisted all attempts to improve it. For historical reasons, UK government R&D spending is unusually biased towards the ‘basic’ end of the spectrum, and the geographical distribution of that spending is highly concentrated on a small number of institutions in a few places – the so-called Golden Triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London. Now, as the UK leaves the European Union, it is once again aiming to transform its technological fortunes with a target of reaching first 2.4 and then 3% of GDP and to use this growth in R&D effort to help ‘rebalance’ regional growth prospects and drive improvements in the UK’s poor productivity record. 

Because of the relative lack of domestic funding programmes for civil technological development over the last few decades the EU’s R&D programmes have been an unusually important source of public-sector support for technological R&D in the UK relative to other countries. In the short-term, post-Brexit Britain’s access to these programmes is by no means guaranteed. At the same time the UK is dependent on EU scientists and engineers, who make up a significant share of both the public sector science workforce and the private sector R&D workforce. Post-Brexit immigration restrictions and perceptions of a hostile environment are issues of major concern for universities and R&D intensive firms alike. 

This seminar drew out the broader questions about the relationships between research and innovation policy and place, and about the international dimensions of research and innovation policies raised by these short-term Brexit challenges and the long-term challenges of harnessing technological development to drive economic growth, regional rebalancing and productivity improvements.

Innovation Policy Lab