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HEPI comment on the Budget and Spending Review

  • 27 October 2021
  • By Nick Hillman

Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

The slowdown in planned public spending on research and development is disappointing. Unlike other areas of government spending, when it comes to research, public funding “crowds in” rather than “crowds out” private funding. So the road towards the long-standing commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D – which is only the OECD average, so not actually very ambitious – just got bumpier still.

It is a shame because, as the Prime Minister said during his party conference speech, public and private sectors working together on the innovations of the future is how to maintain the UK’s relative global standing. Indeed, without cutting-edge research, there would be no COVID jabs, more environmental damage and slower economic growth.

However, it is also important to see the new numbers in the round. If the Chancellor had never put the figure of £22 billion public spending on research by 2024/25 in the public domain, as he did last year, then we would regard today’s numbers as a big increase in the commitment to science and research, and I am pleased to see that the 2.4% commitment lives to fight another day. Even after today’s announcement, the increase in spending is impressive, although in truth that is partly only because our starting point on research spending is so low compared to our competitors.

Overall, the new Science Minister will need to work hard to allay concerns that we are seeing a diminution in the Government’s commitment to science, research and technology, but it is not an impossible task.

Aside from research, the higher education sector was hoping for more details on the Government’s response to the Augar review, which reported two-and-a-half years ago. We still don’t know what, if anything, will happen to student loans or student numbers or tuition fees. This is surprising because, given major changes can take a couple of years to introduce, we will soon approach the point where it is not feasible to roll out really big new changes smoothly before the next election.

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