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BIS outlines in-house research projects

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is currently undertaking research projects ranging from private higher-education providers to the growth ambition and mobility patterns of researchers across the OECD, says a strategy document.

The economic and social research strategy for 2011-12, published on 6 February, outlines the department’s in-house research projects as well as future goals.

The department says that its research needs to be “strategically focused” in the “current fiscal environment”, and that its governance structure for research reflects that aim.

Budgets for its in-house research, it says, are allocated through research committees—consisting of both analysts and policy officials—in different “analytical teams”. The committees are recommended to consider research projects based on how consistent they are with BIS priorities; their cost-effectiveness; and the level of risk involved, adds the strategy.

The strategy outlines how its research projects feed into policy developments that will help it meet goals such as rebalancing the economy; supporting universities, science and research; and building an internationally competitive skills base.

For example, its Spatial Economic Research Centre, mainly based at the London School of Economics, is carrying out research on why the UK has such an imbalanced distribution of economic performance across regions and how it can be reversed. The research, it says, will inform the department’s policy decisions on rebalancing the economy.

On higher-education policy, the department is carrying out a research project aimed at assessing and forecasting the potential for growth for alternative and private providers of higher education. It says that although little research has been carried out on the topic, it is important given that the White Paper on higher education “aimed to enable a wider range of providers to enter the sector to offer more choice for students”.

Another research project, co-funded by the Sutton trust, aims to understand why high-achieving university applicants make different decisions about the types of institutions to which they want to go. The project, it says, will inform decisions on widening access to higher education.

The department is also surveying student income and expenditure and analysing graduate premiums.

On research policy, the department is carrying out research on the comparative international performance of the UK research base. The study, it says, considers data on research inputs “so as to enable the tracking of spending changes occurring now that could potentially impact on future international rankings of science and research performance”.

It is collaborating on an OECD research project using bibliometric data to study the mobility patterns of researchers across OECD member countries.

“Faced with greater resource pressure and competing bids, it is vital that resources available for economic and social research are used in a way which maximises impact. This strategy outlines the way in which research in BIS is governed to achieve that impact,” says Amanda Rowlatt, BIS’ chief economist, in a foreword to the strategy.

“By ensuring that our policies are evidence-based, targeted and provide value for money, we can contribute to this agenda by sustaining growth through the promotion of business and investment; creating a highly-skilled workforce; and promoting free and open markets,” she said.