New Report Lays out R&D Priorities and Alternatives for a Post-Brexit UK

Earlier this month, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released a report outlining what it called a “new vision” for the UK’s research base, as well as potential priorities and alternatives for science, research and innovation in the event that UK’s association with Horizon Europe is severed through Brexit. The report was commissioned by Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

As the authors of the report, Adrian Smith, PhD, Director of the Alan Turing Institute in London, and Graeme Reid, PhD, Chair of Science and Research Policy at University College London, indicated, collaboration is at the heart of research and innovation in the UK. During the EU’s Framework Program 7 initiative, for example, which was active between 2007 and 2013, the UK collaborated in over 10,000 research projects that included 18,000 collaborators. In that time period, approximately €7 billion ($7.7 billion) in funding was secured. EU Framework programs and affiliated initiatives account for nearly 3% of total R&D expenditures in the UK.

As of June this year, there are around 13,000 Horizon 2020 projects that the UK is participating in, with the region securing €5.9 billion ($6.5 billion) in funding, or 14% of the total. In fact, R&D funding accounts for approximately 18% of total EU awards in the UK. Important EU sources of research and innovation funding are Horizon 2020 and the European Structural and Investment Funds. Benefits of participating in EU Framework programs include the accessibility to knowledge, customers and suppliers; possibilities for networking; and increased international co-publications.

Foreign direct investments are also significant to UK R&D levels. Since 2007, the amount of R&D expenditures in the UK by foreign firms had jumped nearly 70%, with non-EU and non-US countries driving much of the growth. While domestic R&D expenditures are the largest source of R&D spending in the UK, it is also the sector with the slowest growth.

The authors recommend that the UK government pledge to increase its investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

If the UK’s association with Horizon Europe ceases with Brexit, the authors recommend that the UK government immediately develop a program to secure and stabilize the region’s over decades-long participation in EU research and innovation programs. In this new vision, basic research would be strengthened, as would the relationships between academia and industry. These opportunities would include greater overall R&D investment in the UK and increasing agility to capitalize on “fast moving” research project opportunities.

The authors also recommend that the UK government pledge to increase its investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. This would be achieved through the introduction of an international fund akin to the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, which serves as a competition between academic institutions to attract significant R&D investments into UK research by foreign-based companies. Additionally, substantial supplemental funding for basic research and a flagship program of research fellowships would also support this cause.