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On 8 December, the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) made public a new set of objectives, and accompanying funding, to encourage innovation and research. The aptly named Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth acknowledges the “twin challenges of reducing the deficit and promoting growth”, and outlines the government’s intention to invest strategically in “emerging technologies” where it sees the country having the potential to “succeed in global markets”.
The strategy focuses heavily on bolstering the position of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help the country advance the pace at which emerging technologies are commercialised. However, higher education figures in these developments, as well. Amongst the planned-for actions, a new voucher programme will support SMEs in working with “external knowledge providers”, notably colleges and universities, essentially to provide these enterprises with free academic support from the higher education community. Also in the vein of knowledge sharing, BIS aims to create an Open Data Institute, to facilitate more widespread and effective access to data – particularly those generated from publicly-funded research – which can be used to advance knowledge and further innovation. Incentives are also on the table. For example, a new Innovation Prize Fund is to be established in which BIS will invest GBP 250 000 (EUR 297 000) per year. In addition, BIS will work with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to set up a new prize centre to run, design and facilitate new inducement prizes in areas not well covered by existing activity. On a broader policy level, the UK government has openly committed itself to ensuring that UK stakeholders are fully engaged in the EU’s Horizon 2020 initiative.
The new strategy has been welcomed by many in the UK higher education community, but there has also been some grumbling. The Russell Group, for example, was “disappointed” by the lack of attention paid by the strategy to their on-going concerns about postgraduate funding levels, which, if not attended to, could undermine the UK’s competitive position as a strong research and innovation producer.UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Russell Group