Top UK colleges call for 3% of GDP spent on research

Russell Group

The group representing 24 of the UK’s top universities has published a manifesto aimed at the next government, calling for more investment to address a growing funding gap, with a focus on research and helping tech start-ups spinning out of university departments.  

The Russell Group’s manifesto, called ‘A Bright Future”, calls upon the next UK government, which will be decided at the 4 July election, to “harness the power of the UK’s research-intensive universities to help improve public services, deliver net zero and drive economic growth.”

The plea for more investment comes as UK universities face a growing funding problem. By 2030, the group estimates there will be a £5,000 gap per UK student per year between the average cost of teaching UK undergraduates in England, and the amount universities receive in tuition fee income and government grants. 

In the manifesto, the Russell Group calls for the next government to commit at least 3% of GDP to research and development, to further strengthen the economy and make the UK a leader in R&D within the G7. It said every £1 of public money invested in Russell Group university research generates more than £8.50 for the UK economy.  

In particular, the group calls for a focus on supporting innovative start-ups and emerging technologies, to help nurture research breakthroughs into large-scale businesses. It advocates a new ‘Spark Fund’ dedicated to supporting hundreds of new high-tech university spinouts, delivered by the British Business Bank, and reforms to pension investments to provide an additional £1 billion of public and private investment by 2030. 

The Russell Group – which represents the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, among others – is also pushing for a new UK Research Security Fund to help universities protect their research and counter foreign interference, and a cross-sector medical training taskforce, to ensure a pipeline of home-grown health and social care skills for the NHS. 

It also wants to see a ‘Green Boost’ for tried and tested R&D programmes supporting research breakthroughs that can cut energy bills and realise effective net zero initiatives. 

The manifesto “highlights how the next government will need to address the sector’s current funding challenges, to develop a sustainable model in which universities can continue to deliver a broad range of high-level skills training – in everything from artificial intelligence to the creative industries – to build the workforce of the future,” the group said in a statement. 

Professor Chris Day CBE, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University and Chair of the Russell Group said: “Our experience in high-level teaching and our innovative approach to research will be valuable tools for the next government as they look to establish a healthier, more sustainable and more resilient nation.”

“In the past there has been positive cross-party recognition of the value of the UK’s R&D sector, and the need for robust and predictable investment to maximise its potential. I hope this will continue with the next government, and we look forward to working with them closely to utilise our strengths and tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time.”