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Research impact report picks out green shoots

Universities and science minister David Willetts has released a series of reports examining the economic and social impact of publicly funded research channelled through the seven UK research councils.

The individual reports and an overview by Research Councils UK outline examples of the benefits gained through the £3 billion research council budget in creating wealth, improving society, generating skilled jobs and in promoting health and wellbeing.

During his speech at the Policy Exchange educational charity in London on 4 January, Willetts said: “These reports demonstrate that the UK is a world leader in science and research. From the development of groundbreaking new treatments to studies that shape public policy and improve lives, the significant economic and societal impact of the UK research base is extremely impressive.”

Examples range from the development by BBSRC-funded researchers of a new variety of broccoli to the EPSRC funding that led to the creation of the UK’s largest computer software company, Autonomy. Established by Cambridge University scientist Mike Lynch in 1996, the business was sold to US computer giant Hewlett Packard for £7.1bn in August 2011.

The Research Councils UK report also details the ways in which the research councils are working together to achieve greater impact. This includes collaboration with partners in key commercial sectors, the Technology Strategy Board and governmental departments.

It also highlights the impact of the six major cross-Council themes and how the councils will develop the impact agenda through the current spending review period.

RCUK’s “impact champion”, Dave Delpy, said, “The UK research base is one of the best in the world and we should be proud of the impact it has both here and abroad. In addition to the outstanding research we support, the research councils continue to invest in schemes and partnerships that increase the impact of this research.

“It is vitally important to demonstrate the value that the UK’s excellent research contributes to the economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing of the UK, both now and in the future,” he added.

Commenting on the Science and Facilities Funding Council report, its chief executive, John Womersley, said: “As a publicly funded organisation, it is essential that we continuously demonstrate the benefits to the UK and global society of our investments in research.

“This report demonstrates how STFC is responding to some of the biggest challenges facing society, such as climate change and global security, by applying the science and technology that we have developed through our curiosity-led research.

“We’re also ensuring that the UK has a strong skills base to support the high level of innovation we will need for future economic growth and stability,” he added.