Today Research England is setting out a vision and work programme to create and sustain the conditions for a healthy, dynamic, diverse, and inclusive research and knowledge exchange system in higher education.
One of my first priorities on joining the organisation was to engage with as many stakeholders as possible and this has helped to shape and inform our plan.
I knew that Research England was a widely-respected organisation critical to delivering the dual support funding mechanisms. Our quality related research funding (QR) provides balance and stability to universities in England, alongside competitive funding awarded by UKRI and a wide range of other funders from charities to businesses.
Our Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) for knowledge exchange and commercialisation supports interaction with business and other users of research and development. However, what was immediately apparent to me in my early interactions across many organisations, was the regard held for Research England’s role; not just what it does, but how it does it. I believe this is founded in a deep commitment to working in partnership, an approach that will be key to successful delivery of our work.
Your research partner
To be able to fulfil Research England’s mission we must be committed to working in partnership to understand what is working well, where changes are needed, and where opportunities lie. It is by combining partnership working with a deep knowledge and understanding of the research and knowledge exchange landscape and universities’ role in it that enables Research England to act as a custodian of this unique system.
Working with others, Research England can foster a vibrant and world-leading research and innovation system underpinned by an extraordinary and diverse range of institutions and organisations that collectively comprise one of the UK’s greatest assets.
Every day, millions of people across the country reap the benefits of research and knowledge exchange in universities, but more can be done to ensure these societal and economic benefits reach more people and that universities play an even greater role in supporting and driving them. The incentives we offer need to foster greater collaboration with different sectors and between institutions, leverage substantial private investment into research and development and step change commercialisation, business scale up and productivity. We need to build capacity and capability, and to do this we need to create an environment that nurtures and grows the research and innovation base and supports translation, while also building contemporary research cultures that create the best possible environment for researchers.
There is a breadth of excellent research activity demonstrated through the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF); we must continue to evolve not just the exercise, but our understanding of what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how the right assessment model facilitates this. Working in partnership with the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland, with the International Advisory Group and with universities, the Future Research Assessment Programme we will do just that.
What’s in the plan?
Our Strategic Delivery Plan sets out the commitments that we intend to deliver and the ambitious work programme to fulfil these across the Spending Review period.
In the plan we confirm our commitment to continue to support institutions with funding to promote healthy research culture, participatory research and public engagement, to undertake a fundamental review of the principles behind strategic institutional funding and our method of allocation, its transparency, as well as review the state of research infrastructure in universities.
We plan to continue our work to improve the metrics we use for the Knowledge Exchange Framework and for evaluating universities’ commercialization activities establishing a national capability for commercialization, impact and metrics and to provide funding of £60m to support projects to propel these activities forward with a national conference in 2024.
By 2025, Research England will distribute roughly £8bn funding to the sector – a substantial uplift but also at a time where there are real pressures on sustainability. The fiscal challenges have not dampened a clear determination by universities to be part of the solution to local, national, and global issues that affect us all. It is important that we can articulate those challenges and provide strong evidence of the impact made by our universities. We intend to identify ways in which we can do this more systematically, while also removing, where we can, unnecessary bureaucracy in the system.
I look forward to working with colleagues and partners to deliver our ambition.