The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomed the 60 million pounds for applied university research but called for a radical change in the UK’s current funding system for science and innovation claiming it does not encourage enough risk-taking. The Academy would like to see Research Councils ring-fence part of their budgets for high-risk, innovative work that would not be funded from anywhere else. Industry is active in working with universities on short-term research with immediate applications but more Government support is essential to encourage business to get involved in essential long-term experimental work.

The new Technology Strategy Board has delivered significant targets but should be more incisive with more funding – it has only £178 million at present. Compare that with the French Innovation Agency, which has €2 billion to play with.

The Academy welcomes the Cooksey review’s recommendation to create a single health research fund to help the UK build on its excellent medical science base. It should abolish what has been an artificial separation between basic and clinical research on the one hand and clinical practice on the other.

However, there are huge opportunities for advances in medical knowledge and technology in biomedical engineering, but there is a real danger of this sector falling ‘between the cracks’ as it is such an interdisciplinary area. Creating an environment that favours the blossoming of interdisciplinary and innovative research will require cultural changes both within the academic community and the expertise of funding bodies’ committees.

The UK should consider setting up integrated health research projects like the one at Oulu in Finland, where a major university research programme is paralleled by an industrial complex. Small companies develop new products and the nearby university hospital evaluates them.

“The Academy would like to see a dedicated Research Councils UK funding stream for innovation and collaborative applied research with industry,” says Academy Chief Executive Philip Greenish. “This should be kept separate from the normal Research Councils’ responsive mode funding so as not to compete with basic research or to skew it to matters that are wholly commercially focused.”

Notes for editors

  1. Academy policy responses are listed on the Responses to government and other bodies page.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton or Tonia Page at The Royal Academy of Engineering