Innovation strategy to drive private sector investment in research, government says

A new innovation strategy seeks to boost private sector investment in the UK research sector, as the government works to meet its target of increasing investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published the the 107-page blueprint on 21 July.

To achieve the aim of driving investment, the government will ask the new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), with support from the Office for Science and Technology Strategy, to draw up “innovation missions” for the government and business to jointly pursue.

The government will also shortly outline seven strategic technologies ministers see as priorities. The government has outlined a series of pledges, outlined as a four-pronged approach
, that it sees as critical to its aspirations.

The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) predicts that the private sector must invest £17.4bn more than it did in 2017 to achieve the government goal of increasing investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Last year, the government published its research and development roadmap
. It has been working towards its target of increasing state investment in R&D to £22 billion. BEIS also announced a review of research bureaucracies in universities.

The countries that secure leadership in such transformational technologies will lead the world, enjoying unrivalled growth, security and prosperity for decades to come
– Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy

The Innovation Strategy announced this July launches a consultation on reducing regulation and a new business innovation forum will look to drive the implementation of the strategy in the private sector. An online finance hub to help businesses seek funding from Innovate UK and the British Business Bank was also among the strategy’s pledges.

New “High Potential Individual” and “Scale-up” visa routes are to launch “to attract and retain high-skilled, globally mobile innovation talent”. A new management programme aims to support 30,000 senior managers of small and medium-sized firms to boost performance and growth.

Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, will undertake an independent review of the UK research landscape.

The Strength in Places Fund (SPF) will receive £127 million to develop research capacity, and £25 million goes to the Connecting Capability Fund to drive university-business innovation. The SPF will spend multi-million-pound sums on improving manufacturing in the north of England, Midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Advanced robotics machinery, ceramics, dairy produce, broadcasting and nano-scale optical components are industries identified for the investment.

The government also announced a slew of blueprints to be published in the coming 12 months, including, in the next three months, the National Space Strategy and a “joint Action Plan on Standards for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” to provide high-level rules to fast-paced technological changes.

The government will publish a net-zero strategy this autumn before COP26 and, before December, it hopes to announce a “Levelling Up white paper” that spells out “bold new policy interventions”. This year should also see the release of a new export strategy, including corresponding export regulatory reform, a new national AI strategy and a digital strategy.

By summer 2022, the government hopes to release a Food Strategy white paper to cover “the entire food chain from field to fork”, including how to improve sustainability, animal welfare and healthy eating. Hot on its heels will be the “Sector Visions”, further work on how those strategic technologies can help achieve some of the goals outlined by the NSTC review, and a national cyber strategy that considers how “long-term prosperity and security” can be achieved.

Other eye-catching pledges for R&D include a new UKRI-wide Commercialisation Funding Framework, digital support for 100,000 small businesses to adopt digital technologies, and a new Government Office for Technology Transfer to support the public sector identify transfer options for innovation.

These plans will “rekindle our country’s flame of innovation and discovery”, said BEIS secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

“The countries that secure leadership in such transformational technologies will lead the world, enjoying unrivalled growth, security and prosperity for decades to come – and it’s our job to ensure the UK keeps pace with the global innovation race,” said Kwarteng. “If we get this right, we can build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow and ensure British firms are at the front of the pack to turn world-leading science into new products and services that are successful in international markets.”

Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive of the NCUB, said universities would warmly welcome the strategy but said the plan must be “backed with clear, funded policies and incentives to enable it”, adding: “A strategy alone is not enough.”

“We are now calling on the chancellor to deliver this clarity in the Comprehensive Spending Review, planned for later in the year. The UK’s universities and businesses will stand ready to support the government on this,” said Marshall.

“Businesses tell us time and time again that the foundations of the research system, including the fundamental research conducted in the UK’s world-leading universities, are one of their most important drivers for investing in R&D.

“As a next step, the government must find a way to bind the R&D Roadmap published last year and the Innovation Strategy published today together. After all, economic recovery rests on the government, businesses, universities, and others working together to create the best possible environment for growth.”

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said: “In the government’s new strategy, we welcome the emphasis on innovation funds like Connecting Capabilities and Strength in Places, which help boost university-business collaboration and support innovative businesses across the UK to capitalise on emerging technologies in areas of national importance. Looking ahead to the comprehensive spending review scaling up these types of innovation schemes should be a priority.

He added: “We hope the government will also take the opportunity to help unlock the potential of the UK’s regions by supporting existing and new regional innovation clusters with research-intensive universities at their heart, which have proven success in bringing high-skilled jobs and investment to all regions of the country”.


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