House of Commons Library

Support for science

Published Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Public funding for research comes from a mix of devolved (e.g. Higher Education Funding Council for England) and UK (e.g. Research Councils) institutions. The Higher Education and Research Bill will make structural changes to the science support structures.

Jump to full report >>

Public funding for research comes from a mix of devolved (e.g. Higher Education Funding Council for England) and UK (e.g. Research Councils) institutions. Bodies like Innovate UK have a specific focus on industrial research. Within these broad frameworks, grants are awarded on a competitive basis.

Successive governments have sought to protect the science budget – both in terms of recurring and capital costs. The latter are increasingly being linked to earmarked projects, a recent one being the Alan Turing Institute based at the British Library. The non-capital science budget, held by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, now stands at £4.7 billion per annum; following the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, this will be protected in real terms for the rest of the Parliament. The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 provides an outline of the current Government’s general policy commitments in this area.

Ahead of the spending review, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recommended that the Government should produce a long term “roadmap” for increasing the combined public and private investment in research and development to 3% of GDP. The Committee also recommended that sufficient resource funding should be in place to fully “sweat” the capital assets embodied by research infrastructure. The Government, in its response, acknowledged the need to match resource funding with capital, but did not adopt the roadmap recommendation.

A library standard note, Research and Development in the UK, includes, among other things, a regional breakdown of support for science from different sources identified as government, higher education, business and private non-profit organisations (e.g. charities). On 20 March 2015, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a statistical bulletin: UK Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development, 2013. A further update has since been published.

The ONS provides data on R&D expenditure by UK country and region. In this context, the country and region refers to the location where the R&D is performed, not the location of the funder. In 2013, the South East, East of England and London continued to dominate R&D activity in the UK, accounting for 52% of total UK R&D. The more recent (2014) figure, standing at 53%, represents a proportionate change of about 0.4%.

The Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17 will bring about structural changes in the way in which research and innovation are supported, though it is not expected that this will affect overall direct funding. A Library research paper, Higher Education and Research Bill 2016 [Bill No 004 of 2016-17], was prepared to inform the second reading debate which took place on Tuesday 19 July 2016. This paper also contains an annex with updated statistical information on research funding. The Bill has now completed its House of Commons stages, having received a Third Reading on 21 November. The House of Commons Library has published a Committee Stage Report on the Bill, outlining the changes made during the earlier Committee Stage and areas of debate.

The European Union is a major source of funding for research, notably through the Horizon 2020 programme. Membership of the EU also provides opportunities for collaboration. Both of these factors will be to the fore as the scientific community responds to and engages with the recent referendum decision to leave the EU.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7237

Author: Grahame Danby

Topics: Research and innovation, Science

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.