DisCOVER: After the Spending Review: what next for UK research funding and strategic priorities?

After the Spending Review: what next for UK research funding and strategic priorities?

After the rhetorical heat of the Conservative Party conference, the Budget and Spending Review on 27 October should be a point of light – bringing the clarity of a Treasury spreadsheet to the government’s programme for the next three years. For higher education and research, a lot is at stake. And having set itself the unusually concrete target of investing £22 billion in R&D annually by 2024-25, the government needs to explain how it will move from current levels – around £15 billion – in three short, steep jumps. All this while the economic seas get ever choppier.

While the research community hopes to see the government deliver on these promises and wider ambitions for the UK as a “science superpower", it is also braced for more disappointing outcomes, including some kind of funding fudge that spells yet more uncertainty. And beyond the headline numbers, important dilemmas persist about the strategic coherence of R&D policies, the balance of funding through the system; and the UK’s post-Brexit plans for international competitiveness and collaboration.

Taking place two weeks after the Spending Review, this seminar provides an opportunity to take stock of what we’ve learnt about the size and shape of the UK’s research budget, and the priorities likely to determine how it gets spent. James Wilsdon will interrogate the Treasury’s spending plans, and highlight some of the implications, opportunities and uncertainties of these plans for researchers in the Information School, and across the University of Sheffield.

James Wilsdon is Digital Science Professor of Research Policy in the Information School at the University of Sheffield and Director of the Research on Research Institute (RoRI), an international consortium working to advance transformative research on research systems, cultures and decision-making. Over his career, in addition to posts at the universities of Sheffield, Sussex and Lancaster, James has worked in think tanks and as director of science policy for the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy. Previously, he chaired the UK’s Campaign for Social Science, and led an independent government review of responsible uses of research metrics, published in 2015 as The Metric Tide. He was co-founder—and from 2015-2021, vice-chair—of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA). In 2015, he was elected a Fellow of the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences. He serves on the editorial board of the OA journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, and tweets @jameswilsdon.

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