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University researchers welcome UK govt’s £2 billion boost to R&D

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The UK government has pledged to invest an additional £2 billion into research and development (R&D) by 2020.

Prime Minister Theresa May made the announcement on Monday, saying that the boost is part of the Whitehall’s strategy to make Britain the “global go-to place for scientists, innovators, and tech investors”.

“We will invest an extra £2bn a year in R&D by the end of this parliament; set up an Industrial Strategy Challenge fund to back scientific research and development of technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and industrial biotechnology; and review our tax regime to encourage and support innovation,” she wrote, as published by the Financial Times.

While most were pleased with the news, some university researchers were reticent, wanting to hear more details first.

James Wilsdon, who studies research policy at the University of Sheffield, tweeted that he was “keen to see hard numbers behind this ‘extra £2bn a year’ for R&D by 2020”.

A biologist at Imperial College London, Stephen Curry, added: “I would broadly welcome Theresa May’s announcement today, though clearly the devil will be in the detail.”

Government press officers said more information on the exact breakdown of the investment would be available from November 23, when the Autumn Statement, an annual statement on government spending, is scheduled to be delivered.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said in a tweet that the investment would be disbursed to world-class scientists through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the yet-to-be-established government agency which will oversee the country’s various research bodies.

A zoologist at the University of Oxford, John Krebs, who is also president of the British Science Association, said in a statement: “This is excellent news for science and innovation, with substantial new money for UKRI. As I understand it, UKRI will have considerable discretion over how the money will be spent, having regard for priority areas,” as quoted by Nature.

Post-Brexit, many UK-based researchers have been concerned over whether research funding would dry up, as many universities receive a significant amount of their research funds from the EU.

According to independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, British universities get around 16 percent of their research income from the EU.

In response to the announcement, Ruth McKernan, chief executive of Innovate UK, said in a statement that the investment would help the country “realise commercial benefit from our world class research base”.

“We see this funding as a huge vote of confidence in the game-changing opportunity for businesses right across the UK to foster a culture of innovation,” she added.

Image via Shutterstock

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