The role of EU membership in UK science and engineering research

The Engineering Professors’ Council and CaSE launched a joint report in December, 2015 on the ‘Role of EU membership in UK science and engineering research’.  Download the press release.

The full report can be found here.

EPC-CaSE reportWith this report we aim to inform the debate about an important aspect of what is a much wider, and hugely complex, question on the UK’s membership of the EU. Ahead of the UK’s upcoming EU referendum, for which the date is yet to be confirmed, we hope to add to the growing body of information on the role that EU membership plays in UK research. This role is complex, ranging from the funding the EU provides for UK research, through to the increased reach and impact that it facilitates through collaboration and freedom of movement. In addition, there is the influence of EU regulation and legislation in the UK, which although outside of the scope of this report, merits further attention.

This report contains evidence and insight gained from our data analysis and interactions with the science and engineering community. We have used the report to contribute to the House of Lords Inquiry into EU membership and UK research, the evidence sessions for this are now underway, and we will watch with interest to see the outcomes of the inquiry. Throughout the report we have largely focused on research conducted in UK universities, in part due to the availability of data. However, the interaction between industry and the EU is also an essential part of this complex issue, and further communication with this sector is needed to assemble a more complete picture of the wider impacts of the EU on the UK research environment.

Examining the figures, overall, the UK is a net contributor to the EU, but it is a net receiver of EU funFig 1 proportion of research funding to UK HEIsding for research; receiving €8.8bn between 2007 and 2013. Moreover, the importance of EU funding to research is growing (Figure 1), with half of the increase in UK university research budgets over this period coming from EU government sources. In an environment of financial strain it is clear that the EU has provided a valuable source of funding for a sector which benefits the wider public and provides a significant contribution to the resilience of the UK economy.

Figure 1: The proportion of research funding income to UK HEIs from different sources. (Source: EPC-CaSE analysis of data from the Higher Education Database for Institutions)

As part of this project we conducted a survey to capture the views of the research community. We were delighted with the number of responses we received- many thanks to those who contributed. The results of the survey were overwhelmingly positive, with 93% of all respondents agreeing that EU membership benefits UK science and engineering research (Figure 2). The survey responses also highlighted many other influences that EU membership and funding has on UK research. These include: improving the quality, reach and application of research, facilitating collaboration and allowing access to highly skilled individuals and specialist equipment.

Figure 2. Researchers’ views on the benefit and importance of EU membership and funding to UK research

Fig 2 - poll results

The report also contains a number of case studies. Personally, I found the experiences and stories of individual researchers working on EU funded projects fascinating.  A common theme in these stories was the way in which EU projects enabled the researchers to apply their skills, knowledge and expertise to a range of applications, largely due to the collaborative nature of EU funded projects. For example, my conversations with the University of Leicester moved rapidly from space exploration to land mine detection, and those with Plymouth University jumped from the micro-structure of cheese, to bio-gas production. Many of the researchers I spoke to wanted to make it clear that as experts in one field they would be unable to ensure that their research was applied to address multiple problems if working in isolation. The questions of how to solve large global problems and facilitate multi and cross-disciplinary research, while ensuring that we have trained researchers now and in the future, seem to be cleverly addressed in EU funded projects.

Throughout my conversations with researchers the positive aspects of participating in EU funded projects were clear, as were the negatives. The latter included the challenges in applying for and reporting on EU grants, and the more day-to-day operational difficulties of collaborating with large numbers of people across multiple institutions and countries. However, the researchers I spoke to, rather than being put off by these challenges had embraced them, feeling that they, on both an institutional and personal level, were gaining from being able to work alongside researchers whose approaches may be very different, but could be complementary to their own.

The motivation and enthusiasm of the researchers to carry out collaborative, and often cross-disciplinary research, as facilitated by EU funding, was inspiring. These personal stories were for me the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of researching this report, and, as far as I am concerned, carry clear arguments for the benefits that EU membership brings to the UK research environment.

Joanna Scales

EPC-CaSE Policy Intern

 

Comprehensive Spending Review

Quick summary of today’s CSR

The government will protect the £4.7 billion science budget in real terms over the Parliament

Engineering mentions:

Support will be provided to secure launch funding to create a new university in Hereford focused on engineering in 2016

Committing £18 million to the Excellence in Precision Agriculture Innovation Centre, which will be partly headquartered in Shropshire. This will be 1 of 4 agri-tech
centres, which will develop new engineering technologies to increase the productivity and sustainability of UK agriculture

Adult skills:

The government will protect funding for the core adult skills participation budgets in cash terms, at £1.5 billion.

HE:

HE maintenance grants will be switched to loans

The government will provide funding for a real terms protection for the overall budget for STEM subjects in higher education.

For all STEM subjects, tuition loans will be extended to students wishing to do a second degree from 2017-18.

The government will provide new financial support through maintenance loans for part time HE students, tuition fee loans for higher level skills in Further Education and new loans for postgraduate Master’s degrees

Apprenticeships:

By 2019-20 government spend on apprenticeships, including income from the new apprenticeship levy, will be double the level of spending in 2010-11 in cash terms.

Engineering conversion course pilot scheme – Invitation to bid for funding

HEFCE large logoHEFCE is inviting applications for new  funding to support the development of conversion courses in engineering (England only). This pilot scheme aims to help the higher education sector develop more courses that support non-engineering graduates in pursuing a career in engineering.   The scheme aims to support innovative approaches which increase the number of graduates pursuing engineering at postgraduate level and entering the profession.   In addition, separate funding under the same scheme is available to develop conversion courses in engineering-related computer science disciplines.  The deadline for applications is 27th November and full details of how to apply, FAQs etc may be found at this link.  The EPC (together with the Engineering Council) has worked closely with HEFCE in developing this call and we encourage EPC members to participate.

Programme analysis of HEFCE’s Postgraduate Support Scheme: Final report published

HEFCE PG SUPPORT SCHEMEHEFCE has now published its report on the Postgraduate Support Scheme pilot.

EPC members will recall that Paul Wakeling of the University of York was commissioned to conduct an evaluation of the Scheme, which ran during  the academic year 2014/15 as he made a presentation of his initial findings at our Recruitment and Admissions Forum in 2014.

The report evaluates and summarises findings from the £25 million initiative involving 40 higher education institutions in 20 projects to support and improve progression to postgraduate education. While focusing on STEM subjects, many of the pilots were focused on engineering.

 

  • Pilot projects provide proof of concept for various supply-side innovations which bring together universities and employers, and also highlight the risks and costs of postgraduate innovation.
  • Greater visibility and co-ordination are needed in universities to ensure the future sustainability of taught postgraduate courses.
  • Both financial and non-financial interventions are necessary to support success at postgraduate level.

EPC members Brunel University and the University of Derby (to name but two) applied some particularly innovative approaches.  Brunel, through the Women into Engineering strand of its project, provided its PSS scholars with industry-based mentors with the intention of improving retention and outcomes rather than access. The response from employers to this initiative exceeded expectation and the university will be employing a full-time mentoring manager to continue this activity.   Derby has applied a range of innovations to its MSc in Innovative Engineering Solutions programme from using aptitude testing to inform its admissions process to how it collaborates and works with SMEs.

Also in the report, info on the funding innovations tested at Durham and Cranfield.

pdf_iconDownload full report

 

Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation

15-07 productivityHM Treasury has published the report “Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation” or the Government’s “productivity plan”.

In it, the Government says it will support the “fast spreading” of science and innovation:

“Our science base is a vital national asset, but to stand still in science and innovation is to be left behind; and we need new ideas to spread and be used as widely as possible. The government will:

  •  deliver on the science capital commitment, investing £6.9 billion in the UK’s research infrastructure up to 2021;
  • ensure the UK’s excellent science has a focus on those areas with greatest potential, from genetics to quantum technology, and has asked Sir Paul Nurse to lead an independent review on how best to make these strategic choices;
  • look for opportunities to develop the UK’s network of Catapult centres for commercialising technology;
  • support universities in collaborating with industry and commercialising research, responding to Professor Dame Ann Dowling’s review.

On the last point, the Government has welcomed Professor Dame Ann Dowling’s review and says it will respond in full including on how to make it easier for business to find help and support from universities and government by the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review. It stated ambition is “that UK universities will continue to increase their collaboration with industry to drive research commercialisation and increase the income they earn from working with business and others to £5 billion per annum by 2025“.

It’s not clear from this what’s meant by “the income earned from working with business” but already, 38% of the research and contracts income from UK businesses working with universities is generated by engineering departments…We’ll watch this with interest…

HEFCE response to the productivity plan

Dowling Review of Business-University Collaboration

Ann Dowling photo - from herDame Ann Dowling DBE FREng FRS has now published her Review of Business-University Research Collaboration, to which the Engineering Professors’ Council was one of very many contributors from across industry and academia.

In it, she says that “it is clear that the UK has played host to many successful business-university collaborations but that….the UK is not reaping the full potential provided by the opportunity to connect innovative businesses — from the UK and overseas — with the excellence in the UK’s academic research base. Government has a crucial role in fostering the conditions under which these collaborations can happen at scale and deliver enduring impacts for all parties involved“.

Dame Ann underlined particularly, the importance of people and providing support throughout an academic career.

It is vital that research students in appropriate disciplines spend some time in industry in order to get a new perspective on their own research, expand knowledge, and build relationships. They should also receive training, particularly around entrepreneurship.  People are at the heart of collaboration and the review recommends an incentive framework for universities and businesses to promote the transfer of ideas and people between business and academia. This includes supporting students to develop business awareness at an early stage of their research careers and recognising researchers who are successful collaborators in terms of career progression and research assessment”.

The key messages are:

1. Public support for the innovation system is too complex.

2. People are central to successful collaborations.

2. Effective brokerage is crucial, particularly for SMEs, and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations.

3. Pump-prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability.

4. Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange over short-term income generation, and further work is required to improve approaches to contracts and IP agreements

5. Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility.

Read the full report

See also the EPC’s recent briefing paper “Ingenious Resilience messages for a new Government” showcasing successful examples of university-industry collaboration and underlining the importance of local, regional and national public funding support.

 

 

RAEng’s industrial secondment success for EPC members

RAEng_Logo_Blue_BlackCongratulations to seven EPC members on securing a place in the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Industrial Secondment scheme. The scheme will see them spending up to 12 months working onsite with an industrial partner, collaborating on a project with a direct industrial application.

The secondment scheme, say the Academy,  provides a valuable opportunity to establish strategic partnerships between industry and academia based on collaborative research projects, facilitating knowledge transfer and enabling academics to gain first-hand experience of working in an industrial environment.

They are:

Dr Rafic Ajaj, University of Southampton, seconded to Airbus Operations Limited.

Dr Tao Chen, University of Surrey, seconded to Unilever UK Central Resources Limited.

Dr Andrea Da Ronch, University of Southampton, seconded to Airbus Operations Limited.

Dr Gillian Ragsdell, Loughborough University, seconded to the Energy Technologies Institute

Dr Siraj Ahmed Shaikh, Coventry University, seconded to MIRA Ltd.

Dr Rafael Mauricio Morales Viviescas, University of Leicester, seconded to AgustaWestland.

Ingenious resilience: messages for a new Government

Ingenious resilienceEngineering matters to the UK economy, on both a regional and national level, and the profession is vital to maintaining the UK’s position in the world.  It drives innovation, regional growth and is leading in tackling the “grand challenges” that face society more generally.  The c.90 engineering faculties in universities across the UK are playing lead roles in educating the engineers of the future and working with businesses of all sizes, and in doing so, ensuring enduring economic resilience through their regional spread and provision of talent and cutting edge research to innovative firms.

In this briefing, from the Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange (CUSPE) and the Engineering Professors’ Council, we call for a long term, consistent approach to policy and funding, particularly around early educational engagement and strong and effective university collaboration and provide some case-study examples of some great initiatives led by universities from across the sector.

 

  • Early educational engagement: We need more engineers.  To address this, engagement must begin at primary school and university engineering departments are playing their part to build from the foundations set by schools.
  • Strong university-industry collaboration: The UK’s historical record of partnerships between higher education and industry in engineering is strong, but more needs to be done to include mid-sized innovators.

Download the briefing (pdf)

If you are a university member and wish to download the amendable briefing, you may do so here.  Or please contact us.

 

The role of the university Technology Transfer Office (TTO), and why TTO-investor discussions can be difficult and take time to conclude.

Useful policy papers and other publicationsAdded to the Members’ Portal… a useful briefing note for those of you involved in spin-outs and negotiations about intellectual property.  Authored by a number of sector bodies on knowledge transfer, it examines the role of the university Technology Transfer Office (TTO), and why TTO-investor discussions can be difficult and take time to conclude.  Also includes a number of case studies.

And if you need some help teaching IP then check out the Intellectual Property Office’s IP Tutor tool

Come and work with us…

EPC-logo-black-and-white1-634x640.jpg CaSE_New_Icon_and_TitleC

Policy officer (intern)

The Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC)[1] is the representative organisation for engineers in UK universities.  With 80 institutional members comprising more than 6,000 academic staff, we provide advocacy for continuing investment in the UK’s engineering faculties, champion innovation in engineering education and provide extensive support and information for our members.

We’re looking for someone to join us on a fixed, 6 month contract as a paid intern. The successful candidate will spend the first 3 months based at the offices of the Campaign for Science and Engineering[2] (CaSE) in London working on a jointly-sponsored project for CaSE and the EPC and supporting and learning about CaSE’s wider advocacy work.  The second 3 months will be spent supporting the EPC’s Executive Director and newly elected President in its governance, strategy, events and communications activities.  This second 3 months will be home-based with regular trips to London for team meetings.

This role is a fantastic opportunity for someone wishing to develop their career in policy and communication. Knowledge and empathy with the issues in engineering education and research are essential.  Highly flexible, the role will be offered on a 0.5 FTE basis (£24,775 pro rata equivalent) – although there is also the option of full-time for 3 months if preferred.

The successful candidate must be available to start on 7th September, 2015.

Everyone at the EPC and CaSE gives their all and we’ll be looking to our intern to do the same. In return, we’re offering the opportunity to make a significant contribution to EPC’s future strategy, research and deliver a policy report and gain valuable experience working in a science and engineering policy environment.

For full details, please see Job Description and Person Specification

Application by full CV and covering letter, paying particular attention to the headings in the person specification to: Susan Kay, Executive Director, PO Box 789, Godalming, Surrey GU7 9FW or by email to s.kay@epc.ac.uk by midnight on 28th June, 2015.  We expect to hold interviews during w/c 7th July.


[1] The Engineering Professors’ Council is the representative body for engineering in UK higher education.  To find out more go to http://epc.ac.uk

[2] Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) is the leading independent advocate for science and engineering in the UK.  It is a small organisation with big impact, operating at the highest levels of politics, business, academia and the media. To find out more, go to http://sciencecampaign.org.uk/