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UKRI seeks extra budget lines for place-based agenda

Image: Missy Schmidt [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

More money and new metrics ‘will be needed’ to ensure universities succeed with levelling-up

The UK’s national R&D funding agency is requesting extra money in the upcoming autumn budget to spend on the government’s place-based and levelling-up agenda, a senior representative of the umbrella funder has said.

Alice Porter, deputy director of commercialisation at UKRI, said in a webinar on 17 September that the agency was waiting to hear from the government on the “additional budget lines”, although she did not specify how much extra money UKRI has requested.

Porter said UKRI wants to catalyse the place-based ecosystem by being “a convenor and facilitator”, in addition to identifying where funding should go to support the agenda.

The webinar, co-hosted by Research Professional News and the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, also heard calls for improved research metrics that go beyond numbers of papers published to measure the success of place-based R&D efforts.

To achieve the levelling-up agenda “we need to change what we value”, said Arma chair Jennifer Stergiou. This could include placing more value on industry collaborations and subsidising joint endeavours.

The recently announced Office for Talent—intended to make it easier for leading global scientists to work in the UK—and the allocation of quality-related research funding could both help direct efforts to specific places, she suggested.

John Goddard, deputy chair of the Civic University Commission, said the commission is trying to develop an evaluation toolkit. He said the Knowledge Exchange Framework evaluation initiative already has some valuable metrics, including the use of narrative, self-evaluation and peer review of activities—although he said there were outstanding questions about how the KEF fits in with the wider place-based agenda.

Goddard added that the place-based agenda needed to be embedded in core R&D activities, and that devolving UKRI offices to the regions could help. “The devolution issue is critically important,” he said, in relation to an upcoming government white paper on the subject.

Another issue is the trade-off between levelling-up and promoting excellence. 

“How can we make the less attractive regions more attractive for the best?” asked Stergiou. One way, she suggested, would be increasing quality-related funding for institutions in deprived areas—a kind of London weighting but for regions.

Another way could be to encourage the movement of people, said Tamsin Mann, director of policy and communications at the professional association for knowledge exchange practitioners PraxisAuril.

Mann also suggested that universities need more coherent responses to place-based issues. “Universities are large places [themselves]…they have internal communities that often need to be better joined up,” she said.