Policy update – March 2024

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

A year of DSIT…

To mark a year of its existence, the UK Government’s Department for Science, Innovation & Technology made a series of announcements. These included the UK Government’s response to the Tickell Review of research bureaucracy and an update to the UK Government’s progress on the Science and Technology Framework amongst others.

One notable line from the response to the Tickell Review was the UK Government committing to reversing the financial costs to universities of the Research Excellence Framework, which DSIT described as a “prominent source of research bureaucracy”. As a WonkHE blog noted, reducing perceived bureaucracy without damaging the credibility and robustness of the REF model is a tricky balancing act. To help with this, UKRI will gain “a new mandate to have due regard for reducing bureaucracy in all new initiatives and programmes it funds”.

Other news in brief

  • University inspection reports: The Office for Students in England published reports on two university inspections of Business & Management courses – one at the University of Wolverhampton, the other Buckinghamshire New University. These are the latest in a series of investigations into business courses by OfSE, which has previously reported on courses at the University of East London, the University of Bolton, London South Bank University, the University of Bedfordshire and BPP University. At Wolverhampton, inspectors found “a lack of underlying pedagogic rationale for allowing up to six attempts to pass an assessment and considered that this brought into question the rigour of the assessment and the level of challenge provided”. At Buckinghamshire New University, the OfSE report highlighted flaws across five areas, including “a lack of adequate educational leadership and academic governance”, and “considerable variability between the pedagogical and teaching skills of different academic staff”.
  • Horizon Europe: The UK Government launched its campaign to maximise UK participation in Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme, through which academics and researchers can apply for grants worth an average of £450,000. It follows a drop-off in UK involvement in the scheme, with the UK share of eligible applications in December 2022 languishing at 6.5%, down from over 10% in Horizon 2020.
  • Innovate UK: CEO of Innovate UK, Indro Mukerjee, announced his intention to step down later this year, with no indication of what prompted the decision or where he may go next. It comes hot on the heels of Ottoline Leyser’s decision to leave UKRI at the end of her current term, meaning significant changes on the UK’s research and innovation horizon.