Policy update – May 2024

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

DSIT spending on ODA drops to record low

UK Government spending on international development by the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology fell to its lowest ebb in recent years in 2023. Provisional data on UK aid spending showed that DSIT had the largest annual decrease in Official Development Assistance spending across all government departments – at £167m in 2023, a drop of 33% on the previous year. Back in 2020, the ODA budget sat at £1bn, of which £607m went on research and innovation.

Other news in brief

  • Science & Technology Framework progress: Research Professional wrote an engaging piece (£) analysing progress by DSIT on their Science & Technology Framework, a year since its publication. The document set out an ambitious agenda to embed science and innovation across UK Government, with ten areas of action. Good progress has been made on some areas, including the publication of strategies for the five technologies singled out for priority treatment: artificial intelligence, engineering biology, future telecommunications, semiconductors and quantum technologies. Elsewhere, however, DSIT have fallen behind their schedule, notably on developing its long-term national plan to “set direction and enhance coordination, working with the public and private sector to ensure the long-term sustainability of the UK’s infrastructure base”.
  • REF disquiet: There have been further rumblings about proposals for the next REF exercise to incorporate measurements of “people, culture and environment”. Any incoming Labour government should scrap the exercise rather than allow it to continue in its proposed form, according to the Director of Research at the Policy Exchange thinktank. Meanwhile, Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University, London, has said “environment – however defined – shouldn’t be a part of the REF process at all. The REF should grade research outputs – publications and impact. Environment is an input. If a place has a good research environment, that will (or should) lead to good publications. If it doesn’t, it won’t.”