Blog: Spring Budget 2017

09 March 2017

Heads of Policy Jessica Cole and Sarah Stevens share their thoughts on the Chancellor's Spring Budget announced on Wednesday 08 March


Funding for UK science and research in the Spring Budget


Last year’s Autumn Statement confirmed welcome increases in funding for UK science and research. This represents a huge opportunity to help consolidate the UK’s position as a global leader in this area, which will in turn boost economic growth and productivity right across the country. The Spring Budget yesterday indicated where a first tranche of this funding will be spent with a focus on research in new and emerging technologies, and investment in highly-skilled people.

Ahead of the Budget, we wrote to the Chancellor setting out the Russell Group’s priorities. These included increased investment in PhDs and fundamental research so there is much in the Budget that we can welcome. 

The £90 million increase in grant support for PhD students will train an extra 1000 doctoral candidates.Maintaining a pipeline of highly-skilled researchers is critically important to the economy and employers place particular value on doctoral students’ specialist knowledge and excellent analytical and problem-solving skills, amongst others. It is also essential for the longer-term health of the higher education and research sector.

This is further supported by £160 million in support for fellowships for early and mid-career researchers in those areas that match the aims of the Industrial Strategy, so doctoral students can continue their careers and their contribution to science and technology.

Our position at the forefront of global research also depends on attracting the best researchers and students from around the globe. The Spring Budget includes £100 million over four years to bring the brightest minds to the UK. International staff and students make an enormous contribution to the economic success of the UK and are fundamental to underpinning excellence in research, innovation and education. It is no surprise that many people have concerns over what Brexit might mean for our ability to attract and retain talented researchers, academics and students from overseas and this announcement is a welcome statement of intent from the Treasury.


Disruptive technologies


There is no doubt that the world is changing at a phenomenal rate due to new and emerging technologies. Providing £270 million to keep the UK at the forefront of development in disruptive technologies will help us to maintain our competitive edge in this area. Many of our members are already leading the world in the fields the chancellor identified - driverless and electric vehicles, artificial intelligence and the discovery of new drugs. This additional funding will enable the UK to build on this success.


What the Chancellor didn’t tell us…


This focus on new research funding during a time of uncertainty is welcome but the Government should also be mindful of the need to balance competitive funding allocations with more flexible quality-rated (QR) funding which is proven to deliver huge benefits for the UK. QR funding enables universities to explore new opportunities in efficient and effective ways and the long-term curiosity-driven research it supports delivers innovation for the future in the form of highly successful licences and spin-out companies.

Support for QR should form part of the next wave of allocations for the new R&D money in order to support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy.


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