So, the outcome of the UK Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), public investment in R&D will rise to £20bn per annum by 2024-25, an increase of over £5bn per annum on current spending levels with a recommitment to raising overall public investment in R&D to £22bn per annum by 2026-27.
This is by any standards an excellent result and, before going any further, we should credit the outstanding work of the BEIS, UKRI, GO Science and HMT teams. Credit also goes to CASE, the National Academies, universities and the backstairs operatives (you know who you are) who did some of the political hard yards. Anybody who has been close to a CSR knows just what it takes: your spreadsheets and theirs, the late nights and frayed nerves, the pitches and rebuffs, the elegant narratives and ugly negotiations. Until, finally, we have the 'Red Book' and warm fizz from a plastic cup.
It is easy to miss, as we set our sights on the next 3 years, that we - ‘the science community’ - have done a deal. The sustained increase in R&D funding we have secured over several budgets is firmly based on a reciprocal promise: that we will deliver for UK prosperity. This means that, whilst there is undoubtedly plenty of room for a bottom-up, curiosity driven research agenda, we must honour the terms we have agreed. There is no ambiguity, no wriggle room. Money could have been spent on social care, education, infrastructure ... choose your favourite target for public expenditure ... it is instead being spent on us.
Here is the deal set out in an appropriate form.
I, Professor [insert name here], do solemnly swear and affirm that, in return for this substantial funding:
I will take impact seriously. That I will not simply hope for it, but work to achieve it.
When a UK industrial, research or innovation strategy is published I will actually read it, however turgid. I will engage sincerely with the collective priorities rather than seeing it as potential window dressing for the work I was going to do anyway.
I will act conscious of the UK’s sectoral strengths and it’s industrial capacity so that my work has the reasonable prospect of generating national prosperity.
I will work with small UK startups even if they do not have the immediate capacity to pursue grants or fund lengthy doctoral studies.
I will persist in working with Innovate UK and Catapults, however hard they make it.
I will not give away knowledge, in the pursuit of which the UK taxpayer has invested millions, for a small, supposedly unrestricted, donation from a Chinese corporation.
I will continue to work on topics simply because they are challenging or beautiful, but I will set the bar high and be honest about my choices and what is foregone as the result of those choices.
I will undertake consultancy for reasons beyond the immediate remuneration and manage the workload consequences that follow from it.
I know that novelty is an important, but not the sole, consideration in refereeing grant applications.
I will celebrate my PhD students who get jobs in industry and my talented colleagues who leave university to work in an industry lab or start up.
I know that under-utilised capital facilities including my own labs and equipment are a national resource not personal property.
I understand that, however uncomfortable I find the political language, ‘levelling up’ is a thing.
So help me [insert name of deity or similar here] …
Signature (blood preferred): [here]
Witnessed (person from Clapham omnibus): [here]