The UK has a world-leading research base that provides an excellent source of new ideas and discoveries. Through innovation, these discoveries can result in advances in our economy, social and cultural wellbeing and health.

The Academy works to ensure sustained investment in engineering research and innovation by demonstrating the societal and economic benefits they can bring.

Current activity

Stimulating R&D for a faster and better recovery

A knowledge and innovation-led economy remains the best strategy for future prosperity, it is also the way to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Engineering has huge potential to contribute to a resilient UK economy that works for all, with innovation improving productivity, investment opportunities, public health, safety and security across the UK and beyond. 

Business R&D is at immediate risk. The pandemic has rapidly altered the business environment in which innovative start-ups and engineering R&D-intensive businesses operate. Reducing or outright halting R&D activities is on of the first cost-saving measures that businesses take. However, R&D is recognised by businesses as part of the solution for economic recovery, to build back better and sustainably.

Here, the Royal Academy of Engineering sets out near-term interventions to ensure R&D in businesses of all sizes in the UK stays on track to deliver the government’s ambitions and support a better and faster recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. The interventions need to be delivered by a variety of organisations, including UKRI, Innovate UK, Local Enterprise Partnerships and devolved and local government to ensure that the benefits are felt across the UK.

Stimulating R&D for a faster and better recovery (156.33 KB)

Briefing - COVID-19 immediate impact on R&D-intensive businesses (141.67 KB)


Increasing R&D investment: business perspectives

The UK government has committed to increasing investment in R&D in the UK from the current 1.7% of GDP to 2.4% by 2027, with a longer-term goal of 3%.

This is an ambitious target that will require further public investment. But it will also need businesses to do more: that they invest in more R&D, conduct more R&D, and do more with that R&D.

To identify the factors that influence business decisions on R&D investment, the Academy has spoken to chief technology officers, chief engineers and, in some cases, chief executives responsible for these decisions in engineering companies across a range of sectors, sizes and locations. The findings of these interviews are presented here in a series of explainers.

Increasing R&D investment: business perspectives


Investing in UK R&D

The UK National Academies have produced a document mapping the current R&D investment landscape in the UK. Here, we outline why the 3% target is important for the UK and factors that should be considered to deliver it.

Investing in UK R&D

In addition, we have also produced an overview of some of the structures by which the UK government allocates public funding for R&D in the UK.

How does the UK government invest in R&D? (422.82 KB)

Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending

In September 2018, the Academy submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry on the balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending. 

Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending (211.25 KB)

Fresh case for investment in research and innovation 

The National Academies recognise the need to better understand the range of benefits that research and innovation (R&I) bring to the UK, the distribution of those benefits across the country and its population, how those benefits are achieved and how best to measure them. The Academies assembled a Steering Group to oversee the commissioning of two evidence syntheses to investigate these questions.

These reports are a step in developing an evidence base to better describe the conditions needed to ensure the continued excellence of the UK’s outstanding research and innovation base and its delivery of benefits, broadly understood, to the UK’s people.

Commission one is an evidence synthesis on measuring the distribution of benefits of research and innovation. Commission two considers the conditions needed to translate research and drive innovation, looking in depth at four different sectors: creative industries, defence, fintech and pharmaceutical and life sciences.

Summary - Fresh Case for investment in research and innovation (554.80 KB)

Evidence synthesis on the conditions needed to translate research and drive innovation (946.69 KB)

Evidence synthesis on the distribution of benefits of research and innovation (1.66 MB)

Industrial strategy

In April 2017, the report Engineering an economy that works for all was published. The report represents a collaboration of the 38 professional engineering organisations, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, in response to the government's industrial strategy Green Paper.

Industrial strategy

The report calls for the government’s industrial strategy to embody an ambitious and bold long-term vision that harnesses the UK’s international reputation for engineering excellence and forges a new global identity for Britain as a top destination for inward investment and global talent.

Research and innovation runs throughout the report, with a particular focus in Pillar 1: Investing in science, research and innovation and Pillar 4: Supporting businesses to start and grow. 

Investing in innovation

In September 2015, the Academy published the report Investing in Innovation. At a time of severe pressures on public finance and growing global competition, the Academy’s report set out the case for investing in innovation to secure the UK's future growth.

Investing in Innovation (795.52 KB)

Engineering for a successful nation

In March 2015, the Academy and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) published an independent report on the economic impact of engineering in the UK. The report, Assessing the economic returns of engineering research and postgraduate training in the UK, highlights the remarkable contribution of engineering to the nation's economy and the everyday lives of UK citizens.

Assessing the economic returns of engineering research and postgraduate training in the UK (3.03 MB)

Engineering for a successful nation (2.34 MB)

Profession called to action on securing the future of engineering

The report estimates that engineering-related sectors contributed at least £280 billion in gross value added (GVA) in 2011, equivalent to 20% of the UK's total GVA. Engineering-related sectors exported goods and services valued at around £239 billion in 2011, some 48% of the total value of exports for that year.

The report also flags up the importance of engineering research to key sectors including aerospace, pharmaceuticals, software and computing and highlights the fact that sectors with high concentrations of graduate engineers report high levels of innovation activity and productivity.