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Fragile R&D links at risk from £5bn drop in funding, says CaSE

Campaign group calls for holistic support for UK’s ‘rich ecosystem of research and innovation’

The government must ensure that the whole of the UK research base, not just universities, is protected from the effects of Covid-19, according to a campaign group letter to the science minister on 19 May.

Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomed steps taken by the government to support university research during the pandemic and the establishment of the University Research Sustainability Taskforce to explore further measures.

“However, we also see a pressing case for stabilisation measures that reach across the diverse range of organisations that contribute to this country’s outstanding performance in research and innovation,” she said, adding that the connections between them were “fragile”.

“We hear from charities and businesses that large volumes of R&D activity are being stopped and that there will be a hard look at priorities when they restart,” she wrote. “Publicly funded charities are experiencing rapid loss of income; R&D-led manufacturing businesses, such as aerospace and automotive, are experiencing a collapse in demand.”

If one assumes a 20 per cent overall reduction in business investment in R&D, in line with charity estimates of a 25 per cent reduction, that would equate to a reduction of around £5 billion in UK R&D, Main said.

“Current financial pressures mean that partners from public, private and third sectors will experience ‘pain and recovery’ at different times, making it even more difficult to participate in collaborations.”

Main urged the taskforce to address “not just higher education research and knowledge exchange, but wider issues that underpin the sustainability of an innovative economy in the UK”.

“It could consider the role of the research base in an innovation-led recovery, and the measures required to sustain such a research base through this period and the coming years,” she suggested.

“We therefore encourage the government—through you—to consider the health of the whole research base: not only the jewels but the whole crown,” she wrote. “It is the interactions between these actors that will deliver the government’s agenda.”

Main has also written to the chairs of the Lords and Commons Science and Technology Committees, inviting them to gather evidence about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the wider research base.