Policy update – July 2024

Ed Bridges, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Academy of Social Sciences 

Going into Labour?

With Labour looking on-course (at the time of writing) to win a Parliamentary majority, we thought we’d take their manifesto and put it to the test on their commitments towards HE, research and development.

The party makes limited financial commitments on research or higher education (and indeed many other policy areas), but tonally is supportive of the value of academia and its role in delivering Labour’s priorities, praising HE as “world-leading sector in our economy”.

Nevertheless, whilst the party acknowledges that higher education is in crisis, the solution to this will likely be reform in the long-term, perhaps with a short-term stop-gap rise in tuition fees in England to stop universities collapsing during the next Parliament. The longer-term solutions might involve looking at the size/shape of the sector, including a major review of tertiary (post-16) education. But moves towards aligning tertiary sectors should not be seen as straightforward or a panacea – the Welsh Labour Government has spent over a decade grappling with moves towards the position.

On research, Labour’s previous commitment to invest 3% GDP in R&D does not feature in the manifesto. The omission of a specific research investment target from Labour’s 2024 general election manifesto was described within a Research Professional article (£) as looking “suspiciously like a U-turn”, although it is likely part of the same caution outlined above, allowing financial wiggle room.

Labour has committed to “scrap short funding cycles for key R&D institutions in favour of ten-year budgets”. This was also indicated (£) recently by Chi Onwurah, Labour’s shadow science minister, who said: “Longer-term stability is good for research and it’s also good for researchers—our expectation is that it will lead to longer-term contracts for researchers”.

For those who want to read more:

Other news in brief

  • DSIT should do more to reflect social sciences and humanities: The name of the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology should be changed to make it more inclusive for researchers working in humanities and social sciences. That was the advice of Diana Beech, current head of the London Higher group of universities and a former UK Government advisor. She told Research Professional (£) that if the next government wants to be serious about building an innovation nation built on our interdisciplinary strengths, then it needs to adopt a more inclusive approach that explicitly acknowledges the contribution of the UK’s world-leading creative arts, humanities and social science institutions to our research excellence. The Academy have issued our own statement in support.
  • Inflation set to wipe out three-year boost to UKRI budget: Inflation will have wiped out recent increases in the budget of UKRI by the end of the financial year, according to analysis by Research Professional News (£).
  • A Wellcome set of proposals: The Wellcome Trust issued its own manifesto ahead of the General Election, calling for the UK to: lead the G7 for R&D intensity and put research on a secure, long-term financial footing; become the most attractive place in the world to do research; and support the new and ongoing costs of a world-class infrastructure on a long-term basis. Other organisations also released their own calls: there was much to support in the British Academy’s manifesto, including its call to “use insights and evidence — from all disciplines — to address society’s biggest challenges”. WonkHE reviewed their broader vision.