Pre-Budget Report 2006

The RAS welcomes the government’s continued commitment to fund blue-skies research in UK universities.

The Pre-Budget Report, published on 6 December 2006, notes,

"In order to maintain the UK’s world-class universities the Government intends that resource allocation should continue to be strongly focused on excellence in research, including curiosity-driven, user-focused, and collaborative research’.

Welcoming this the President of the RAS, Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, said,

"Astronomers are driven by science goals and our research is curiosity-driven. That said, if you want to stimulate applied science you have to support the pure science on which it rests, too. However, astronomy does have many direct links with industry, especially in the areas of astronomical and space instrumentation."

'The case for blue-skies astronomy' can be read here.

The sections of the Report dealing with Science and Technology (edited) follow:

1. Introduction

In a competitive global economy, innovation and the successful exploitation of creative ideas is increasingly important to business success, productivity and long term economic growth. The Government has an important role to play enabling an innovation system to thrive, so that creative ideas can be carried through to new products and services.

The Government has taken action to invest in the science base, strengthen links between business and the research base, incentivise research and development (R&D), and ensure an attractive regulatory and investment environment. In July 2004, the Government set out its ambition to increase public and private investment in R&D, so that it reaches 2.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2014. The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 sets out the Government’s framework for achieving this target, and its long-term vision for UK science and innovation policy.

Building a national innovation system depends on the maintenance of a strong public research base. The UK research base is already highly competitive by international standards. In order to maintain the UK’s world-class universities the Government intends that resource allocation should continue to be strongly focused on excellence in research, including curiosity-driven, user-focused, and collaborative research. The Government is strongly committed to the dual support system for university research, which provides institutions with the freedom to set strategic priorities for research, undertake blue skies work, and respond quickly to emerging priorities.

2. RAE

In recognition of the burden imposed on universities by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) the Government has consulted on options for reform. In line with the presumption made in Budget 2006, the 2008 RAE will go ahead as planned. However, the consultation made clear that there is overwhelming appetite for reform thereafter. This Pre-Budget Report sets out a new framework for research assessment and funding.

Further details of the new system are published today. 21 Responses to the consultation made clear that a single system should apply to all institutions and across all disciplines, but noted differences in the applicability of current metrics across disciplines.

The Government agrees with this analysis and is developing an overarching framework within which the current applicability of metrics in different disciplines is accommodated:

• for science, engineering, technology (SET) and medicine a combination of research income, postgraduate research student data and a bibliometric indicator of quality will be used to assess research. The process will be overseen by seven advisory groups with representation from UK academics, research users and international advisors;
• for all other disciplines, including mathematics and statistics, there will be a significantly reduced, light-touch peer review process informed by a range of discipline-specific indicators. This will be substantially less onerous for universities.

The outcomes from this process will be adjusted for research volume to produce a funding allocation. Data to support the new system will be collected for SET and medicine in the academic year 2009-10 with a gradually phased change to funding allocations between September 2010 and August 2014. For all other subjects, expert panels will be convened in 2013-14 to inform new funding allocations from September 2014.

3. Wealth Creation & Knowledge Transfer

In order to optimise the economic impact of research, the new system will provide greater rewards for user-focused research. In advance of the new system coming into effect, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will, from 2007-08, allocate £60 million of Quality-Related research funding a year, relative to the amount of research universities undertake with business. HEFCE will be responsible for refining the details of the new system, including the bibliometric system and the light-touch peer review, in consultation with the university sector. It will report back to the Government in time for the 2007 Pre-Budget Report.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is today publishing a booklet of case studies, Making the Most of UK Science, highlighting examples of excellent research collaboration and knowledge transfer.2 The case studies illustrate how the academic community and business in the UK have engaged with each other, risen to new challenges, and built upon their respective strengths, to produce innovative products and services that have had significant social and economic impact in the UK.

The Chancellor has asked Lord Sainsbury to carry out a review to assess the responsiveness of the science and innovation system to the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, and take a forward look at what more needs to be done to ensure the UK’s continued success in wealth creation and scientific policy-making. The Review will build on the Government’s existing policy agenda, including the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014, as well as the Next Steps for implementing the framework published alongside Budget 2006. Lord Sainsbury will report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and Education and Skills in time for the 2007 CSR.

4. Public Engagement

The Government’s goal is for the UK public to be confident about the governance, regulation and use of science and technology – by both government and business – and to be actively engaged in scientific debate. To build on the progress made in this area through the Sciencewise Programme, the Government will establish an Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue on Science and Innovation to assist all parts of government in enabling public debate on science and technology-related topics. The Centre will develop and disseminate good practice on public dialogue across government and its non-departmental public bodies, resulting in a culture where public dialogue is seen as a fundamental part of science and technology policy development.