6 September 2017

  |  CBI Press Team


Industrial Strategy will rely on university strength

Carolyn Fairbairn also calls for bespoke ‘Associated Country’ status for EU research programmes in speech at Universities UK

Industrial Strategy will rely on university strength

The Government must put universities at the core of its Industrial Strategy to deliver the innovation, productivity and skills the country needs to compete, according to the UK’s leading business group.

The CBI also urges the UK Government to seek bespoke ‘Associated Country’ status to EU research programmes that support investment and innovation, ahead of the next Brexit position paper to be published on science and innovation.

In a speech at the Universities UK annual conference, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, will outline the CBI’s three priorities to ensure that UK universities maintain their place at the top of global league tables:

  • maintaining the UK’s strength in research, which attracts talent and investment to the UK
  • ensuring the UK remains open to academic staff and students from the EU and around the world
  • maintaining a stable, long-term framework on student funding that delivers the skills we need, while ensuring that universities’ doors are open to all.

On Industrial Strategy and the value of UK universities, Carolyn will say:

“Now more than ever we need to really get behind our universities and deliver on their potential as world-leading centres of excellence. They lie at the heart of the future of the UK and should be at the core of our Industrial Strategy.

“Digital transformation means research and innovation is now more important than ever before. So we need to say yes to innovation by saying yes to our research departments. And realise – as we build our industrial strategy –  the UK’s universities must be a shining beacon.

On maintaining access to EU research schemes, she will say:

“Today EU schemes makes up a sixth of our total research funding. Replacing that would be a real challenge. But this isn’t just about money – it is about international leadership and giving the UK a voice in setting standards.    

“Horizon 2020 is a great example of this. The biggest research programme in the world, it turns 44 countries into a collaborative engine that brings lasting benefits to the UK economy.

“We need to be clear: We are not likely to be able to replace quickly the benefits of participating in these Framework Programmes.

“That means we must seek bespoke ‘associated country’ status in all aspects of Framework Programme 9. And this should be an aspect of the permanent settlement between the UK and the EU – not just a transitional arrangement.

“Domestic research spending is not yet high enough. We are significantly behind China and Japan on levels of spending and we don’t yet do well enough on commercialisation. That’s a huge shared challenge for universities and businesses. That’s why the CBI wants to see spending on R&D raised to 3% of GDP, as a shared goal for the public and private sector.

On the need to be open to international talent, Carolyn will say:

“We attract the best staff and students to our universities. And this international talent is a real benefit for Britain. They support not only our institutions but also the towns and cities where those institutions are based.

“International students alone are worth £25 billion to our economy. The links they build here give us the edge when it comes to international collaboration and ensure we have the best research skills in the world.

“If we deter these people from coming here there are plenty of opportunities they can pursue elsewhere. In Canada, in Australia, in the US.

“But we want these highly talented people here in the UK, supporting jobs and growth here.

“First and foremost, let’s give people some clarity by saying, irrespective of the deal, the UK Government will let those staff already here from EU countries stay, and that those students applying to start courses up to and through the transition period will be able to come and complete their course. We need to show staff and students from the EU that they are welcome in our country.

On the future of university tuition funding, Carolyn will say:

“This is an issue that goes to the heart of the purpose of our universities - opening doors, raising skill levels and boosting social mobility.

“And, in the past century, we’ve come a long way. In 1900, just 1% of young people were enrolled at university. Today, each school year in England sees over 40% of its students enrol at a university aged 18 or 19.

“Alongside this, we’ve seen record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make it, and open up a world of opportunities for their future.

“This is the system that tuition fees have funded - ensuring universities have sustainable, independent funds; making sure students pay nothing until they are in work – an effective graduate tax; and raising participation rates amongst the most disadvantaged groups. All delivered in an affordable way for the taxpayer.

“Our universities rely on the stable, independent funding provided by fees. I think it is important we are clear – with the fee system in place, universities have delivered greater access for disadvantaged groups than ever before. And fees mean we no longer need to ration places like countries where tuition is directly taxpayer funded.

“Re-introducing the direct grant would cost £11bn per year – money spent on those who, on average, will end up as the best off in our society.

“But if we choose – as I think we should – to maintain the fee system in England, we do have to ask why there has been rising concern about the system.

“Many potential changes have been put on the table in recent weeks – with a variety of price tags. But with public finances tight, government should reflect on the relative strengths of the tuition fees system in England in boosting participation by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and judge carefully where any future investment could make the greatest difference.”