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‘We can encourage co-development of ideas and innovations’

Despite pressures, access to the best facilities is key in helping to drive economic growth

Specialist laboratories, cutting-edge scientific equipment, comprehensive datasets and advanced information technology are just a few elements of the physical  infrastructure that lays the foundations for maintaining the UK’s world-leading position in research, as well as attracting the best researchers and securing further international investment for the UK. Embarking on a research career, you will want to know that you have access to the kind of facilities that enable you to push the boundaries of discovery.

Economic pressures on public investment have led to a reduction in funding both in what we call “resource” budgets – which are generally invested in research grants and postgraduate training – and in “capital” budgets, which are invested in equipment, facilities and infrastructure. Critically, at the last  spending review, capital funding was removed from the Science Budget’s ringfence and funding was reduced.

However, the need for investment in capital and infrastructure projects has not diminished; in fact, it is more crucial than ever. The rate of technological advance is accelerating, and our researchers need to access the very best facilities to continue to deliver the excellent research needed to drive economic growth. We also need to attract and retain our best talent.

Researchers, perhaps especially those early on in their careers, will look to move internationally if facilities and infrastructure are not available at home or through global partnerships. The UK therefore needs to invest to retain, foster and develop its research capability to continue to lead and attract investment.

Research Councils UK have responded to this changing and challenging environment and led the way in promoting the sharing of equipment and facilities between and across universities and other research institutions. By working together and sharing access, institutions and researchers can increase the reach and impact of investments. By sharing, we can also encourage the co-development of strong ideas and innovations.

We have now taken this a step further and placed capital planning at the heart of our research strategy. We have developed a framework for Capital Investment against which the Research Councils will plan investments in the UK’s capital infrastructure for research. The framework doesn’t present a simple shopping list of funding requests. Rather it provides a strategic plan for developing and maintaining the UK’s infrastructure to ensure it keeps pace with the needs of our world-leading research base in a way that adapts flexibly to new priorities. As well as ensuring we can deliver up-to-the-minute advanced research, the infrastructure will drive advances in sectors crucial to the economy.

To be able to do this effectively, there are two inter-related strands to the framework. First, we need to maintain the core “underpinning” infrastructure to support existing excellence. Second, we need to ensure this is responsive to emerging opportunities and the challenges of the future.

While the framework for capital investment focuses on capital and infrastructure needs, we are acutely aware that a highly-skilled workforce with state-of-the-art technical skills and research leadership is required across all career stages. Investment in all areas of research, including the skills and capabilities or researchers, are crucial to sustaining excellence, making the UK an attractive place in which to learn, produce, invest and grow.

More information on the framework for capital investment will be available during November at rcuk.ac.uk