Vince Cable's science and innovation speech

08 September 2010

Commenting on this morning’s speech on science and innovation by Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable MP, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said:

“Dr Cable has urged UK scientists to ‘do more with less’; they already are. The UK’s leading universities currently punch well above their weight in the international sphere – generally coming second only to the US – but are under-resourced in comparison with their global competitors. Our current 1.3% of GDP investment in higher education is outpaced by the US, Germany, South Korea, Australia, Canada and Japan. Against the odds, with one percent of the world’s population, 12% of scientific citations go to UK-based research.

“But the UK’s place in the research premier league is under threat. While our international rivals are investing in their future skills and knowledge base, UK universities are threatened with further cuts which will make it more difficult than ever to maintain their world-class status.  Another wave of cuts in the CSR would risk severely jeopardising the competitive advantage which has made our universities and especially our success in research the envy of the world. 

“The government’s commitment to research excellence and concentration is welcome; research of the very highest quality must be prioritised. We also need to nurture  the high concentrations of excellent research and innovation and the clusters of high tech companies that flourish alongside our major research-intensive universities and which are key to driving a knowledge-based economy. 

“Dr Cable’s recognition of the fact that high-quality basic research often delivers more economic and social benefits than so-called applied research is key. In fact there shouldn’t be a big distinction between the two types of research. As Lord Porter, a former president of the Royal Society has remarked: ‘there are two types of research – applied and not-yet-applied’. 

“Dr Cable rightly highlights the importance of academic-industry links. However, it is important not to over-estimate the revenue universities can get from IP and spin-outs. Many universities will spend more on technology transfer than they make as income from it.  The gains are predominantly to the economy not the university.  

“The UK needs to develop its innovation system to play to its national strengths. The country’s large research universities already represent significant centres of world-class innovation expertise, and they have the potential to increase their innovation capacity further in the future.  If a national network of technology centres is to be established it is essential that that these bolster the existing excellent centres of university-business collaboration at these institutions."

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