[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Science and Research

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 24th June 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 9:30 am, 24th June 2015

The fundamental problem in relation to private sector investment in R and D is the dominant culture of short-termism in investment. People are looking for quick gains, but what we need to rebalance our economy is the long-term investment that drove economic growth in this country in the first place.

Echoing the point that my right hon. Friend Mr Smith made, according to a report produced by CaSE last year, “The Economic Significance of the UK Science Base”, private sector R and D output rises by 20p per year in perpetuity for every £1 spent by the Government on R and D, so there is a real return on public sector investment and it stimulates the private sector investment that David Simpson referred to by raising the UK’s knowledge base.

That is the real challenge, but there are also real opportunities, because as a country we have enormous strengths, above all our universities, which are highly productive. To echo again the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East made, despite representing only 4.1% of the global research community, UK researchers produced 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited papers in 2011, the last year for which I have figures available. That puts us at No. 1 in the world in the sector. Crucially—I make this point as a northern MP—at a time when we all share a concern about the regional imbalance of economic growth, universities are one of the few assets we have that are spread evenly across the country, and they are able to generate economic growth in all regions and all nations of the UK.

Clearly, universities draw their investment widely, from several sources, and not just from public funds. They have grown their own investment in R and D by 40% in the past decade and now generate more than £3.4 billion a year. However, public investment levers in other funding, and academics in receipt of research council grants have been shown to be more outward-facing and more engaged in the commercial application of their research.

The strength of that research in our universities attracts foreign investment into the UK, as well as international students. According to a British Council survey of 5,000 18 to 34-year-olds from China, India, Brazil, Germany and the US, the fact that the UK has world-leading academic research was the primary attraction for them to come here and study in our universities. Those international students bring more than £10 billion of economic benefit to the UK, including to our regional economies. I know that in Sheffield alone the net value of our international students, who are approaching 9,000 in number, is £120 million a year. Thousands of jobs depend on that money, and not just in the university sector.