Government must ensure universities receive research funding

Universities Scotland have welcomed a UK Government announcement for additional funding to support the international collaborations and competitiveness of UK research, as a result of delays to the UK’s association to the Horizon Europe programme.

This funding can directly support research and wider economic growth in Scotland if the extra funding is ring-fenced for research by the Scottish Government.

On Monday, the UK Government announced that it will provide an additional £484 million for research and innovation across the UK to ensure that the UK can be internationally competitive and collaborative even while we are outside key EU programmes, such as the multi-billion €uro network Horizon Europe. Membership of Horizon Europe and other EU science programmes is currently on hold, subject to a resolution on the Northern Ireland protocol between the EU Commission and the UK Government.

Within the sum of £484 million, the UK Government has announced:

  • £100m to go to the Quality-Related Research Fund for English universities, which is allocated through Research England.
  • £200m has been made available to support UK research infrastructures.

The UK Government is clear that both announcements involve “additional funding for the Devolved Administrations”. The corresponding sums passed onto Scotland and Wales are yet to be confirmed but are expected to amount to tens of millions of pounds.

Universities Scotland is now asking the Government in Edinburgh to ensure that all research resources coming from the UK Government are allocated to university research to maintain competitiveness and deliver the biggest impact for Scotland’s economic growth.

Responding to the announcement, Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal of the University of Dundee and Convener of Universities Scotland’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee said:

“We welcome the announcement of additional research funding from the UK Government to ensure that the UK can be a leading innovation nation even while we remain outside Horizon Europe. While we still believe Horizon Europe membership to be the best way forward, it is good to see action being taken to sustain our contribution. 

“Scotland will miss out on the full benefit of this unless the Scottish Government uses the full resources allocated by UK Government to invest in universities’ research and innovation. Levels of Scottish Government investment in university research have eroded while UK Government has invested heavily in English university research, so it is vital that every penny of this resource is ring-fenced and invested directly in Scotland’s universities’ contribution. Doing so will give Scotland’s universities the best chance of maintaining research competitiveness and driving sustainable economic growth to Scotland’s benefit, as demonstrated by a London Economics study which estimates that every £1m of Scottish Government investment in university research generates an economic return of £8m for Scotland.”

Between 2014/15 and 2022/23, the research excellence grant in Scotland has been cut by 31% in real terms. This is projected to grow to a 41% cut in real terms by 2024/25. In contrast, the equivalent funding in England, Research England’s Quality Research grant has risen by 10.4% in cash terms between 2021/22 and 2022/23 and is forecast to increase by 34.8% (cash terms) for the three-year period from 2022.