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Research sector sets out policy wish list as Sunak calls election

Image: Number 10 [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Long-term funding and an immigration system that attracts top talent among R&D leaders’ requests

R&D leaders have defined the policies they want to see debated in the lead-up to the UK general election, after Rishi Sunak announced the 4 July vote during a rainswept Downing Street speech interrupted by noisy protests.

The prime minister made the announcement on 22 May, following a day of intense speculation. The campaign will see the Conservatives battle a Labour party with a big opinion poll lead.

Chance to ‘drive positive change’

“This election is an exciting opportunity for the R&D sector to make an impact,” said Alicia Greated, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. 

“[It’s] an opportunity to embed support for R&D among policymakers, an opportunity to drive positive change and, most importantly, an opportunity to bring everybody with a stake in UK R&D into an exciting conversation about our shared future.

“During the imminent campaign period, and in party manifestos, we want to see a commitment from parties to: long-term and sustainable R&D investment, unlock skills for a more research-intensive economy, build on and leverage regional strengths in R&D, drive business investment in R&D.”

‘Huge opportunity to boost science’

Beth Thompson, director of strategy at Wellcome, said: “The next government will have a huge opportunity to boost science and secure the UK’s role in transforming the future of human health.

“Long-term funding, an immigration regime that can attract top talent, and world-class infrastructure will unlock R&D investment and maximise the impact of science for the UK’s economy and place in the world.”

Hope for ‘long-term strategy’

Rosalind Gill, head of policy and engagement at National Centre for Universities and Business, told Research Professional News that the group was looking forward to working with the next government to develop a “comprehensive future workforce skills strategy, underpinned by thorough evidence, strong leadership, powerful convening power, and appropriate resources to enable delivery”.

“We hope that the new government will establish a long-term strategy to increase the UK’s research intensity and innovation,” she added.

Gill said the strategy should be supported by a robust policy framework and a global promotion strategy.

“This will enhance the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for research and development investment and support the start and growth of innovative companies,” she said. 

“To protect and grow investment from overseas businesses, alongside increased investment by domestic businesses, the new government needs to ensure that its offer is co-ordinated, coherent and effectively communicated.”

‘Act now to protect universities’

The new government will also need to understand and appreciate “the indispensable role research and innovation plays in driving the nation’s economic growth agenda”, Gill continued.

“They must recognise that universities stand as the bedrock of the UK’s economy and society,” she said. “They are responsible for fostering research and cultivating a skilled workforce needed for the future economy.

“Therefore, against the backdrop of mounting pressures for universities, it will be essential that the new government creates the necessary conditions for universities to thrive.

“This will involve providing funding and policy support to foster an environment in which universities succeed as the engine of the knowledge economy. The strength of our universities is a real UK advantage—we implore the new government to act now to protect them, before it’s too late.”