Beginning a new partnership with universities

Beginning a new partnership with universities

22 November 2018

Supporting the higher education (HE) sector to deliver world-leading research and knowledge exchange is central to everything we do at Research England. But, despite this support, the sector is facing multiple, significant uncertainties.

The forthcoming government spending review, which will be informed by the post-18 fees and funding review, the ongoing pensions discussions, and Britain’s exit from the EU are just a few high-profile examples of the challenges universities are up against.

Within that context, the opportunities and challenges posed by UK Research & Innovation’s strategic prospectus and the Industrial Strategy – in particular the target to reach 2.4% GDP expenditure on R&D by 2027 – are significant and stretching for us all.

The UK’s universities are uniquely placed to respond to the opportunities and challenges brought about by our changing economy and society. The HE sector makes a fundamentally important difference – to individuals, through improved life chances and opportunities; to the economy, through innovation and skills; and to society, increasing our knowledge, through research discoveries and increasing social mobility and cohesion.

But the wider changes brought about by last year's legislation around the HE sector through the Higher Education and Research Act have resulted in significant shifts in the relationship between funders, regulators and higher education institutions. These shifts have led to some concern among universities and their representative bodies.  

One of Research England’s missions is to work with universities to understand how best to support them in delivering on national priorities, and we fully recognise the role that institutional strategy and decision-making plays in this.

We also know from the experience we have brought from the former Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) that the HE sector is diverse, and is stronger and more vibrant as a result of this diversity. Universities are ingenious in how they respond to changes in their different environments and the wants and needs of their partners and stakeholders.

Our role in Research England is to help the sector to harness that ingenuity for the collective benefit of both the sector and the nation. We can only do this through a process of continued engagement and dialogue with universities. To do this we have established a new team of Institutional Engagement Managers with the remit to develop a rich understanding of individual institutional strengths, opportunities and challenges.

The intelligence and understanding we gain through our sector engagements will be invaluable in building up sector-wide insight into specific or emerging issues. The evidence we gather through this dialogue will inform both Research England and UK Research and Innovation policy and strategy.

It is only by understanding institutions as partners that we, in UK Research and Innovation, can deliver on our aims. Our role in Research England is to help build that understanding.

Institutions interested in getting in touch with their dedicated institutional engagement manager can do so via our website. We also plan to hold another Research England Engagement Forum on 20 February 2019 in Birmingham, which will provide an opportunity to meet the Research England team and colleagues from other HEIs.