Blog: What did the Welsh Assembly recommend for research in Wales?

In this week’s blog, Mairwen Harris welcomes the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s recognition of the need for the implementation of the Reid Review.

This week the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee at the National Assembly for Wales published their report on Research and Innovation in Wales which included eleven recommendations and called for the urgent implementation of the recommendations of Professor Graeme Reid’s review of government-funded research in Wales.

Why is public funding important?

Both the Reid Review and the Committee’s inquiry considered the level of public funding for research and innovation in Wales which is crucial to the success of Welsh research. It provides the long-term and sustainable funding which ensures that the research and innovation activities of universities impact on the economy, society, culture, public policy, health, the environment or quality of life of Wales and that we are able to tackle societal challenges.

Together with teaching, research and innovation is crucial to the sustainability of our universities, and these activities generate a significant contribution to the Welsh economy. In 2015/16, Welsh universities generated

–       Over £5 billion of output;

–       £544 billion of export earnings (equivalent to 4.1% of all Welsh export earnings);

–       Over 49,200 full time equivalent jobs in Wales (3.5% of all Welsh workplace employment) with a significant proportion in high-value jobs.

Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee Inquiry

The inquiry looked at the balance of basic and applied research funding, the differences between research and innovation funding for universities and businesses in Wales and how UK funding of research and innovation funding at UK-level impacts on Wales.

There was a formal consultation, which Universities Wales and most Welsh universities responded to, and, as part of the inquiry, Universities Wales arranged for the Committee to meet with a range of key stakeholders in London which included a session with Professor Graeme Reid, the Wellcome Trust and Rebecca Endean, Strategy Director at UKRI.

The committee make 11 recommendations, including the need to urgently implement the Reid Review funding recommendations, including protecting QR funding and creating the Future of Wales and St David’s Funds. These recommendations are important as the Reid Review found that of the total QR funding spent in the UK, 3.9% is spent in Wales, less than Wales’ population share of 4.8%. For comparison, 13.7% of QR funding in the UK is spent in Scotland which has a population share of 8.3%. Wales.

There is a correlation between the amount of QR funding and the amount of external research council income a country draws down. For example, Wales draws down 3.6% of total research council funding while Scotland draws down 14.7% of total research council funding.

The committee also discuss the need for need the Dual Funding System and the Haldane Principle to be enshrined in legislation as it has been in England. Although perhaps not widely known, the Dual Funding System and the Haldene Principles are important cornerstones of research in the UK. The Dual Funding System refers to the ways in which university research is funded in two main ways – core, predictable funding and competitive or project-specific funding. The Haldene Principle is the longstanding principle that decisions about what research should be funded should be made by researchers not politicians.

The Committee’s recognition of the need for the implementation of the Reid Review is a welcome contribution to the policy landscape on research and innovation in Wales. The research and innovation carried out by Welsh universities makes a real and tangible contribution to the lives of people and, at this time of unprecedented change, will play a pivotal role in Wales’ prosperity.