Three of the UK’s independent national academies, The Royal Society, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering have urged the Government to invest in expanding research capacity and the application of scientific innovation, in order to ensure the country emerges stronger and more resilient after the recession. This will build on the existing strengths of the UK research sector which is one of the world’s best.

In a joint letter to the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, the three Academy Presidents – Baroness O’Neill (BA), Lord Rees (RS) and Lord Browne (RAEng) – say that “while prudent fiscal management is required in such challenging times, it is also the responsibility of Government to invest strategically in targeted and timely measures for growth.”

Their letter adds: “A compelling recovery narrative must have science, engineering, research and innovation at its heart. It must be closely aligned with efforts to build a low-carbon economy. And it must draw effectively on the full range of disciplines and expertise within the UK’s research base” - including “complementary investment in the social sciences and humanities.”

Specific areas of investment identified by the academies include:

  • attracting and retaining talent – including new schemes to attract and retain the best people looking at starting a research career and those at mid career level research groups, who may well be the leaders of tomorrow;
  • boosting the research base – including allocating additional funding via the Research Councils on the ‘sandpit’ style approach, bringing researchers across all disciplines together to pitch their projects to each other in order to create better collaborative projects;
  • accelerating application and innovation – including substantially increased funding for the Technology Strategy Board, the establishment of an office of technology assessment and a new scheme to allow those in business to hold medium term positions in university research departments to encourage exchanges between business and university departments.

The academies have concentrated on two target areas for investment and leadership: the transition to a low carbon economy and infrastructure that underpins the dynamism of the entire economy. These have been identified as having a strong chance of successful commercialisation as well as helping the UK to make its contribution to meeting global challenges such as climate change.

Specific areas include:

  • Low carbon economy – electric and hybrid vehicles, green chemistry, next generation nuclear power, power management and delivery, energy saving materials and the next generation of renewable energy technologies, including offshore wind;
  • Infrastructure – communications such as the roll out of high speed broadband and the Semantic Web, electricity infrastructure that will allow the integration of new renewable sources of energy and intelligent transport systems.

The Academies were responding to an invitation issued by the Minister to contribute ideas and proposals that can help accelerate the transition from research into the economy.

Notes for editors

  1. 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.
  2. Health and biomedicine are being addressed in a complementary submission by the Academy of Medical Sciences.
  3. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. As we prepare for our 350th anniversary in 2010, we are working to achieve five strategic priorities, to:
    Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation
    Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice
    Invigorate science and mathematics education
    Increase access to the best science internationally
    Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery
  4. THE BRITISH ACADEMY is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in these disciplines throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.

For more information please contact

Bill Hartnett at the Royal Society
Tel +44 (0)20 7451 2516 or 07931 423323

Tim Brassell, Director of External Relations at the British Academy, on +44(0)207 969 5253

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. +44 (0)20 7766 0636 or 07784 574857