The changing external environment for research

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It's an exceptionally interesting moment to be thinking about the future of research at our University. There is a lot of preparation remaining to be done for REF, but not much research. The vast majority of the research that we will be submitting to REF has already been done. Thus, the research that is being planned and performed now, lies outside of the current REF window. We're moving into the future!

And, what will that future look like? It's very apparent that the financial model for universities in the UK is evolving rapidly, and the changes are, inevitably, putting additional pressure onto university funding for research. The historical means to support research at Universities - the QR funding and other income streams - are shrinking in value as we are growing our University and our research. At the same time, the government have announced their intention to increase funding for research and development to 2.4% of GDP. That must be good news, but the increase is largely not government funding - it will have to come from businesses, third sector, industry and other sources. There will be increased pressure for co-funding from universities, as well, and success in attracting external funding will sometimes depend on it. There are other new funding streams too - the Industrial Strategy, the Strength in Places fund, the broader devolution opportunities (see the WECA's Local Industrial Strategy, for example) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). So, we can hope to be able to identify ways to support our research, despite the more challenging environment, but only if the research we propose is aligned with the opportunities.

That's a big change. The implication is that for our research to thrive, we will have to be increasingly alert to the external demand. There are some big, broad areas that won't go away - climate change and sustainability, economic growth, social responsibility, healthcare, as examples - and there are the specific areas within the industrial strategy and as profiled by the Research Councils. But some of the best opportunities might be less visible, and more specific. They won't necessarily appear on a plate, although they are more likely to come to us in those areas where we have a strong reputation and track record. But clearly, the more we work in concert with outside organisations, of every description, the better placed we will be.

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