Reinvesting for Growth

Outcomes of past research surround us everywhere. The technology that runs our cars, pain-killers and other simple treatments for our ailments or the scholarship that underpins that fascinating history documentary we watch on TV; it’s hard to imagine a world without the products of research.

Another example is the smartphone technology that many of us rely on, not just for communication but also for access to information. Smartphones represent an extraordinary convergence of research into a single device, but underpinning it all is the wireless network. And that aspect of the technology is about to go through the next revolution as we move from 3G to 4G networks, which promise to provide connection speeds on smartphones to rival the best available from wired broadband.

As well as a huge opportunity for new innovation, the 4G revolution will also provide revenue for the Government through the auction of 4G spectrum that is planned for next year. A new report from the Campaign for Science and Engineering and NESTA makes the case that this windfall is part of the return on our past investment in research. And also argues that the best use of the money is to reinvest it in research, technology and innovation; a boost to drive sustainable economic growth.

The report proposes a programme to spend the projected £4 billion of additional income. The suggestions are well designed to cover both investments that will bring benefits in the longer term, and those that will deliver on shorter time-scales  I think these proposals merit serious consideration and represent an exciting opportunity to make a step change in innovation-led growth.

From an RCUK perspective, it is especially pleasing to see such a strong emphasis on spending on research infrastructure. Innovation is driven by world-leading research which needs access to world-leading research infrastructure. Government has made significant investment in research capital over the last two years, but there are still major opportunities available that we need to seize to keep our research at the highest level. In the coming weeks we will be publishing the RCUK Capital Investment Framework which sets out these opportunities. Allocation of further funding would allow us to turn opportunities into realities, with major benefits for the economic performance of the Nation in the long-term.

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