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Government’s Innovation Strategy represents a welcome and “refreshing” change of focus

The Royal Academy of Engineering has commented on two strategies published today by the government–the Innovation Strategy and R&D People and Culture Strategy—that, together, aim to help to make the UK a world-leader in science, research and innovation that attracts, retains and nurtures the diverse talent from all backgrounds needed to sustain and build on our excellent research base.

Commenting on the Innovation Strategy, which commits to supporting businesses and institutions at the cutting edge of innovation including through a series of ‘innovation missions’, Academy President Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE said:

“The Innovation Strategy is a timely and powerful publication. With businesses responsible for the majority of innovation and R&D done in the UK it is welcome, and somewhat refreshing, to have a strategy so focused on the objective of boosting innovation by private sector firms.

“With pressures on public finances, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, and growing global competition, supporting businesses to manage the risks associated with R&D and encourage innovation is a way of securing our future growth and reaping the returns from our investment in research.

“A multitude of factors influence businesses’ ability to undertake innovation and responsibility for these is spread across the whole of the government, from skills to export and beyond. The Strategy recognises this. Its successful delivery will be rely on a whole-government approach to implementation, and this must also include action to ensure the long-term sustainability of the research base.

“I am pleased to see Innovate UK feature strongly and be identified as crucial to increasing innovation in the UK. I hope this recognition will be matched with a long-called-for uplift in budget, and multi-year commitment to funding, so that the highly accomplished new CEO can realise the agency’s full potential. Ambitions for public procurement and to unlock the potential of pension funds could be transformative, though as recent history proves, challenging to deliver.

“Now government must engage with the businesses and entrepreneurs who can make its innovation ambitions a reality and ensure that government spending decisions are equal to its vision for an innovation-led low-carbon economy that delivers benefits across the country.”

In April of this year, the National Engineering Policy Centre, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, published the report Late-stage R&D: business perspectives that concluded that a future as a science and innovation superpower is achievable but only with greater and more targeted government policies and support.

The R&D People and Culture strategy also published today sets out a vision across the themes of people, culture and talent, to deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, and calls for collective and coordinated action from across the sector.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, CEO Royal Academy of Engineering and member of the R&D People and Culture Strategy Steering Group, said: “I strongly welcome today’s publication of the R&D People & Culture Strategy. This is a milestone that I hope will mark a step change in how the R&D community approaches the challenge of attracting, retaining and nurturing diverse talent and creating cultures in which everyone can thrive and contribute, irrespective of their background. This is vital to our ability to attract the full breadth of talent we need to fulfil the many and varied roles across R&D-based sectors, and to our ability to build on and sustain the excellence in our research base that we are rightly proud of.

“I applaud the Minister for her personal leadership in the development of the R&D People & Culture Strategy. I have been delighted to work with her on the Strategy steering group and the Royal Academy of Engineering is fully committed to collaborating with government and the wider research and innovation community to make sure the strategy results in the progress we need.”

Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng FLSW, Chair of the Academy’s Research Committee and Deputy Vice-Chair, Cardiff University, said: “I am delighted to see the R&D People and Culture Strategy emphasise the value of enabling people, talent and ideas to flow freely between academia, business and other sectors. The Academy’s own schemes are intentionally designed to deliver excellent R&D by fostering collaboration between academia and industry, broadening career horizons, and equipping individuals with diverse skills.

“As a research funder we strive for excellence in the delivery of our programmes, for example in offering awardees mentoring and flexible working conditions, but there is always room for improvement whether it be in support for top talent or the application processes. For instance, as part of our commitment to continuous improvement the Academy will exploring the use of narrative CVs.”

Professor Sarah Hainsworth OBE FREng, Chair of the Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Aston University, added: “Fulfilling and sustainable careers in R&D in both academia and industry should be attractive and open to everyone, but as today’s R&D People and Culture Strategy acknowledges, we are not at that point yet. Inspiring people from all backgrounds to consider careers in R&D and ensuring there are no barriers to entry requires significant change – from school right through to the industry employers. This was highlighted in our recent work on the Hamilton Commission, which looked at how to improve the representation of Black people within engineering roles in UK motorsport.

“The Academy is committed to creating cultures that bring together diverse perspectives, and in which everyone can thrive and enrich our collective performance. We seek not only to effect change in our own programmes but also to be an agent of change within the wider engineering community.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone. In collaboration with our Fellows and partners, we’re growing talent and developing skills for the future, driving innovation and building global partnerships, and influencing policy and engaging the public. Together we’re working to tackle the greatest challenges of our age.

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