Big changes in UK research funding

Big changes in UK research funding
25 November, 2015

Higher Education, The Research Councils, UK Aid Strategy and UK public budget

The news may be focusing on today’s Spending Review, but to fully understand the situation you also need to look at the many strategies and visions outlined earlier this month.

November has been an incredibly important month for UK research, with several major reports deciding the future of its funding and governance.

The news may be focusing on today’s Spending Review, but to fully understand the situation you also need to look at the many strategy’s and visions outlined earlier this month.

1. Higher Education

It all begain with the Higher Education Green Paper, Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choicewhich signalled a major shift in the UK’s higher education structuring.

Published on 6 November, the paper proposed many changes, including closing the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and relocating its quality research funding function elsewhere, most likely to the Research Councls. It also outlined the potential introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework to assess universities.

2. The Research Councils

The long-awaited Nurse Review of the Research Council was published on 19 November, with Sir Paul Nurse proposing to mainly keep the Research Councils as they are, but creating a single independent agency to oversee them.

The new “Research UK” would have greater powers than the current Research Councils UK, potentially taking on the role of allocating funding to UK universities and administering the Research Excellence Framework (usually the job of HEFCE), as well as providing strong cross-council, interdisciplinary research management.

Research UK would be independent of government but interact with a ministerial committee (chaired by a senior minister) and help put science at the heart of government.

3. UK Aid Strategy

On 23 November, ahead of today’s Spending Review, the Department for International Development published it’s new strategy, UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest.

number of significant announcements are set out in the plan, including:

  • a new £1 billion commitment – over five years – to global public health (the “Ross Fund”) which will fund work to tackle the most dangerous diseases, including malaria
  • a new Global Challenges research fund of £1.5 billion over the next five years to ensure UK science takes a leading role in tackling issues such drug-resistant infections and protecting animal and plant health
  • investing in the new Energy Africa campaign
  • a new £500 million crisis reserve to allow greater flexibility to respond to emerging crises, such as the movement of Syrian refugees

4. UK public budget

The government laid out its plans for public investment in today’s 2015 Spending Review and Autumn Statement.

The news was good for research, as the £4.7 billion science budget will be protected in real terms, and will include the new £1.5bn Global Challenges fund mentioned above.

The government will take forward Paul Nurse’s recommendations in creating Research UK, and will look to integrate Innovate UK into it in order to strengthen collaboration with the business community.

Read more about the Higher Education Green Paper, Nurse ReviewDFID’s aid strategy and the Spending Review.

Image credit: Omar Flores via Unsplash

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