Tuesday, July 07, 2020

comments on UK Research and Development Roadmap

The government just published, and asked for comments on their not much of a roadmap, more just a list of things we do in some weedy use case studies, rather than some sector-by-sector analysis of what strengths (and weaknesses and opportunities etc).

Sadly, the document contains virtually no recognition of:

1/ where people come from and go to - some sort of map of various career paths for typical successful UK researcher (including threading in and out of positions in other countries)...

2/ interconnectedness of ideas/funds etc would be obvious if they'd looked at

computing (games/cgi/mobile app industries, and school & university programs to match) or health/pharmaceuticals, or even sports and entertainment tech...

As anyone who'd actually worked in R&D could tell them, the UK's problem isn't in the basic Research. It is :

a) that industry (not government) massively under-invests in its own work compared with e.g. Germany or China or just about any industrialised nation, and 

b) the UK fairly badly under-promotes work from basic research into commercial exploitation compared to the US

These are two quite different things that need fixing...and need different remedies:

I'd claim 

a) is partly cultural (trying to get money out of BT for example is like blood from a stone even if you are Cambridge, but trivial if you are MIT -why?) - there's no longer a tax barrier, so its not about money  - I hesitate to suggest it (due to perverse incentives) but maybe tax people for R&D

investment abroad when there is local capability?

b) is much harder - until we realise that we actually have successful examples in biomedical so export that system into other worlds/sectors somehow - learn from successes. 

Part of it is having a big enough local customer base to grow work too a place where you don't see "being acquired by a big US outfit" as the only viable exit strategy - this works for health because of MRC/NHS/CancerResearchUK/Welcome eco system and I believe it works in sports tech because of the football league... so how would one build that up for computing, or environment or...?

The other (not unconnected too the last point) is the total failure in the roadmap is to have a plan B for what happens in 2021 if the government fail to negotiate membership of the EU research funding schemes (at least they admit that that is the preferred option) given the fraction of things funded that way today (not just in HE), a fairly thorough  contingency plan is essential.

So like a lot of things this government does, dismal.Could do better.


Ian Brown said...
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Ian Brown said...

For your (1), perhaps the Royal Society could develop their graph of PhD scientist destinations, in slide 20 of https://www.slideshare.net/blogzilla/making-effective-policy-use-of-academic-expertise