Putting the D’s back into UK R&D - Why we mustn’t forget the other D

The ambition of the UK Government R&D Roadmap, released in July last year, is to make the UK a global leader in science and technology. This is an ambition that techUK supports and the UK tech sector is fully behind. However, how do we make this happen?

The good news is the UK already has a world leading science and technology research legacy and heritage to build upon. After all, we are the nation of the Higgs Boson, DNA, Alan Turing, Graphene, the World Wide Web, Dolly the Sheep and Protein Folding AI.

We also already have a world leading academic and scientific research community that is a vital cog in the UK’s R&D ecosystem. The recently announced creation of ARIA (Advanced Research and Invetnion Agency), as a new independent research body focused on high risk and high reward transformational research is an exciting move that signals a much needed systemic shift in the way scientific research will be conducted in the UK.

In the March 2020 Budget, the Government set out its aim to increase R&D spending to £22bn per year in 2024/25. If we are to continue to lead the world in scientific research and innovations such as AI and Quantum this investment is vital and must be distributed across not just Universities but to bodies like UKRI and Innovate UK that play a key role in stimulating and supporting academic and scientific research.

But the UK is not going to become a science and technology superpower through academic research alone; as well as the R in R&D we must also become world leaders in the development and commercialisation of this research.

Turning our world leading academic and scientific research into new market ready, commercial products, services, solutions and companies.

To do this now is the time to put the D back into R&D, the UK we can achieve this by

  • Reorienting R&D support to be more focused on the development of new products and services, for example by looking to schemes such as the Dutch innovation box for inspiration
  • Allowing the R&D tax credit to be claimed against key inputs into R&D such as new buildings facilities and machinery
  • Expanding R&D support such as the tax credit to investments in operational expenditure such as data analytics and cloud computing, key elements for analysing collected data and revealing the insights that allow for the creation of new products and services
  • Strategically identifying existing barriers or bottlenecks in the R&D system that could prevent a focus on commercialisation. For example, how could regulatory barriers around self-driving cars and drones be preventing the commercialisation of battery tech here in the UK.

But to truly reach the next level we must also drive forward the deployment and diffusion of innovative technologies within all sectors and supply chains.

If we get this right, we can make the UK as hub of not just R&D, but the early testing and deployment of new technologies and products. This in turn will support further innovation by creating a nation of first adopters.

So, as we look to take forward the UK’s Government R&D strategy, and what role the development of innovation focused bodies such as new independent body ARIA could play, we need a strategy that is focused on putting the D’s, development and diffusion, back into R&D.

Market engagement will be vital for this. Ensuring that there is an existing market ready, willing and able to adopt and use innovations that come from R&D will be key.

Early market engagement with the industries and academic bodies working on R&D projects should be built into the UK’s R&D strategy and roadmap. This will ensure that academics, scientists, and developers understand what is being researched, what are the bottlenecks and what does the market require to pull these products through from primary research to new products and services. This will not only support commercialisation, but also faster adoption across the economy and society.

The COVID-19 crisis has already highlighted the critical role that science, technology, innovation and R&D can play by quickly deploying new technologies to address major social challenges, revealing what is possible when the UK’s R&D, business and innovation communities work as one.

The prize for getting this right is enormous. Leading the world in not just in science and technology research, but by putting the D’s back in R&D, the development and diffusion of cutting-edge innovation could support the UK become a more dynamic economy, where the worlds brightest and best come to research, develop, pilot and test the next generation of products and services. Not only bringing benefits for UK citizens but inspiring subsequent rounds of innovation. This to us seems like the definition of a science and technology superpower. 

This article is part of techUK's “Tales from the road to making the UK a science and tech superpower” series

Sue Daley

Sue Daley

Director, Technology and Innovation

Neil Ross

Neil Ross

Associate Director, Policy, techUK


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