Call for evidence submitted to the Higher Education Commission inquiry

02 July 2021

The Government has set out ambitious targets for levelling-up regional economies and reaching 2.4% spending on research and development. The Rt. Hon. Chris Skidmore MP and Lord Norton of Louth have been tasked with leading an inquiry to understand how we can best facilitate the higher education sector’s ongoing role working with business to deliver innovation, economic growth and prosperity throughout the UK.

Today Eastern Arc submitted evidence to the inquiry. We set out our position on the three broad areas of interest: the existing state of R&D relating to our region or organisation; how future work should be funded; and incentivising positive behaviour in engaging with innovation.

  • The existing state of R&D relating to our region or organisation. The EARC universities are important catalysts for research and development within their region, both in undertaking world-leading research through collaborations with significant regional, national and global partners, and in enabling and facilitating the exchange of knowledge between cutting-edge research and those who can use the findings and developments arising from it. In our submission, we gave examples of both, from the Norwich Research Park partnerships to the Cambridge-Norwich Tech Corridor and the Thames Estuary Production Corridor. We also highlighted our UKRI-funded programmes such as EIRA and Growing Kent and Medway.
  • How future work should be funded. Here, we stated our belief that there are two fundamental principles that should be borne in mind in providing R&D funding, particularly for innovation: devolution of decision-making (or recognition or regional need), and long-term investment. We emphasised the importance, as we have done elsewhere, of  ‘granularity’ in identifying regions of need. We explained our support for skills training, and the need to provide a secure, stable and sustainable framework for those developing a career within research and innovation, as well as the necessity of better understanding and servicing the needs of those in the commercial sector. We identified regional consortia as a good avenue for developing pan-regional collaborations, and expressed some caution in the implementation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).
  • Incentivising positive behaviour in engaging with innovation. Finally, we looked at how best to change the culture around engagement with innovation, concuring with Prof Victor Newman’s three policy changes: first, changing funder rules and making innovation (and customer-focused methodologies) explicit; second, changing the incentives inherent in the REF, such as increasing the weighting of impact; and third, managing the transition to a more innovation-focused attitude within universities by making KE activity explicitly rewarded.

We look forward to continuing to be part of the conversation as policies are developed towards achieving the 2.4% target, and wish Mr Skidmore and Lord Norton every success with their inquiry.

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