Research matters: Fifty years at the cutting edge of technical progress

The Daresbury lab shows why science and enterprise are vital UK partners

This month the Daresbury Laboratory in the North-west of England celebrates its 50th anniversary as one of Europe's largest technical research facilities. Daresbury is run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and provides enormously complex, costly and highly specialised equipment for the nation's scientists.

Over the last five years, the facility has supported ground-breaking science in areas as diverse as medical applications and climate change. Daresbury's clients include the antimicrobial technology firm Byotrol, which relocated its R&D division from Germany to Daresbury's Innovations Technology Access Centre in 2009 to develop its revolutionary hygiene technology for combating the spread of viruses and superbugs. The company has now expanded further onto the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, an Enterprise Zone, to focus its commercial activities on securing major contracts.

The UK must continue to provide shared, world-class facilities such as those at Daresbury to ensure that our researchers remain at the cutting edge of international research. In this year's budget, it was announced that a further £100m of research capital will be invested in UK universities themselves, which have seen recent reductions in capital budgets. A criterion of the new initiative is that any funding from the public purse must be doubled by investment from private companies. Not only will new facilities be built, but the relationships generated by the new scheme should establish further opportunities for the co-development of research.

The new initiative will complement the many successful partnerships between universities and business and industry in the UK today. For example, an independent anti-doping facility for this summer's Olympic and Paralympic Games will be run by GlaxoSmithKline and King's College London. This Olympic initiative is one of many that will be highlighted during Universities Week 2012, which runs from 30 April to 7 May showcasing the many ways in which our universities are contributing to the 2012 Games.

We at the Research Councils work hard to encourage private sector investment in research to complement and enhance the core of essential public funding. In around 20 per cent of cases this takes the form of joint funding for PhD projects, whereby a commercial partner matches the investment made by a Research Council to fund a student. The benefits to business and industry are that the schemes offer access to talented people and to new research which – for small or medium sized organisations in particular – is not always easily obtainable. In turn, researchers benefit from partnerships that often continue long after the funding arrangement has ended and can result in the commercial application of their work.

Research Council partnerships encourage investment from the private, public and third sectors to help expand research in all disciplines. We do this by working with key partners to produce mutually advantageous links. Researchers gain new insights into development opportunities, and accessing cutting-edge research helps UK business remain internationally competitive. For example, the Arts and Humanities Research Council is investing in four new "knowledge exchange hubs for the creative economy" that will establish new partnerships across the UK's growing creative economy. The aim of the hubs is to increase knowledge exchange between arts and humanities researchers and private and public sector organisations alike.

To maximise the long-term impact of research on the UK economy, its relationship with commercial and other public organisations must continue to develop. The more closely researchers work with other sectors of the economy, the better they will be able to support future growth.

More information about Research Councils UK is available at www.rcuk.ac.uk

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