Russell Group unveils plan to unleash UK potential

Five key priority areas should be taken into account when the chancellor announces his budget on March 11, says the group

The Russell Group has published its submission to the 2020 budget.

It lists five key areas it hopes the new chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will prioritise when he delivers the annual financial statement next week.

1. Place-based economic growth

A target should be set to increase productivity throughout the UK. Public investment in research and development should be doubled and allied to a clearly laid-out 10-year plan, in a bid to boost business confidence in long-term UK investment. Research-intensive universities should be used as hubs for R&D and innovation funding, with each required to offer individual plans based on regional requirements and skill sets. VAT should be reformed to support joint capital investment by businesses and universities.

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2. Fundamental research

A doubling of the grant for quality-related funding from Research England and equivalent bodies in the devolved nations, to aid blue-skies research and uncover research talent.

3. Strategic science-based missions

Go ahead with the mooted UK Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) for high-risk, high-reward, research and innovation missions, covering the full economic cost of each project. At the same time, public procurement policy should target innovation, with a set amount of spend set aside to public sector bodies – the NHS, for example – to demonstrate new advances at scale.

4. The talent pipeline for future high-level skills

Higher education institutions are currently offering science, technology, engineering and medical qualifications at a loss of more than £1,500 per undergraduate student per year. Given the fields’ fundamental importance in ensuring the country’s prosperity, government should ensure sustainable funding is in place. A similar commitment should be made for postgraduate research training to cement the UK’s status as a research superpower.

5. Global collaboration

In a post-Brexit world, universities should take an active role in negotiations over future trade deals, as well as in designing and enacting the country’s new visa system. Funding for Horizon Europe should be ring-fenced.

Taken in the round, says the Russell Group, these proposals will help “support the government’s ambition to level up opportunity and investment across the regions and nations of the UK and unleash the country’s full potential”.

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