UK government can improve both the economy and people’s health by investing in research.

London: Research is essential to solving global challenges. The UK is a leading place to do science, with UK scientists behind many important breakthroughs – from the first baby born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to the first vaccine.

The next UK government can build on these strengths by further investing in research and development (R&D). Doing so could boost the economy and benefit people’s health, both in the UK and around the world.

As the largest non-governmental funder of UK research, we believe the incoming UK government should further commit to science through three priorities outlined in our manifesto for science.

Becoming the most research-intensive country in the G7 would position the UK as a global leader in science. R&D intensity combines public and private investment as a percentage of GDP, allowing us to make fairer global comparisons with other countries in the G7. The US currently holds the lead in R&D intensity, investing 3.5% of GDP in R&D, around 0.5% higher than the UK.

Line chart showing R&D intensity in the US, Japan, Germany and the UK from 2017 to 2021. These are the top four countries in the G7 for R&D intensity.

Set a goal to lead the G7 in R&D intensity to solidify the UK’s role as a global leader for science and innovation. This should include a plan to sustain and steadily increase R&D funding.

Commit to increasing funding settlements for R&D from between one and three years to 10 or more years. This would allow research organisations to plan more strategically into the future and allocate funding with more certainty.

Reinstate the 0.7% Gross National Income target for Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding. This would allow the UK to work closely with the global community on cutting-edge research and development.

Ensure research funding models are sustainable and reflect the total costs of research to stabilise R&D funding sources. The UK’s current research funding model relies on cross-subsidy, mainly from university international student fees.

To attract and retain the people who make great research possible, the UK needs to create a thriving research environment. It can do so by:

Reinvigorating the government’s Research and Development (R&D) People and Culture Strategy, launched in 2021, which set out to create a strong, inclusive research culture.

Removing barriers for international researchers to work in the UK by reducing the upfront costs for visas. Currently, it costs a family of four £20,980 upfront for a five-year Global Talent Visa, which is multiple times greater than similar visas in other countries.

Enabling international collaboration by making the most of existing initiatives that drive science, research and the economy. For example, Horizon Europe, the largest international research collaboration scheme in the world.

Supporting the NHS to enable clinicians to do research and use patient data responsibly and transparently. This would help facilitate leading medical research and increase the number of clinical academics, which has declined from 8.6% of consultants in 2011 to 5.7% in 2020.

“Research is always a good investment for government. Research generates better health, better quality health care, high-productivity jobs and a healthier economy; it’s an engine for international collaboration and diplomatic relations; and the British public agree that R&D is an important investment for local communities.”

Research resources such as labs, scientific databases and biological samples are the foundational infrastructures that enable discovery and innovation. That’s why the next UK government must strategically invest in these infrastructures to meet the needs of researchers now and in the future by:

Developing a strategy to support research infrastructure, backed by sustainable investment, that advances key technologies. At Wellcome, we’ve demonstrated the impact of investment like this, for example, by funding innovation in bioimaging. Charity investment in research infrastructure needs to be underpinned by government-funded support to maximise this impact.

Increasing access to research infrastructure. The demand for laboratory space far outweighs the supply, and proposals for new laboratories often face delays due to extensive planning processes. To streamline the development of essential research infrastructure, laboratories and other science facilities should be defined as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

Championing the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology as a mechanism for cross-government policy coordination. This coordination is key to enhancing decision-making and ensuring policymaking keeps pace with scientific developments.