The report calls for:

  •         A prestige talent scheme to attract global researchers 
  •         A new strategic framework of funding agreements with “advanced research economies”
  •         Mainstreaming funding for cross-border projects to enable researchers to collaborate with partners anywhere in the world at speed 
  •         A new national funding priority to attract investment from overseas businesses aimed at universities – especially in parts of the UK that need it the most 
  •          A new entrepreneurship talent programme to retain young international entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses in the UK 
  •          New ways of strengthening and seeding university partnerships with institutions across the globe to boost the mobility of researchers and students 

The move comes as the UK attempts to reposition itself post-Brexit and continue to foster international links both within and beyond the EU.

UKCISA chief executive Anne-Marie Graham told The PIE News her organisation “welcome calls for a competitive entrepreneurship programme, as this could form part of a coherent international graduate employability strategy”.

“This, and a competitive Graduate Immigration Route, will help government achieve its ambitions for the International Education Strategy,” she added.

In July 2020, the Research and Development Roadmap laid out the government’s plans to “make the UK a global centre of research and innovation after its departure from the EU”, with aims to increase public research investment to £22bn by 2024/25, and spend 2.4% of GDP investment in R&D by 2027.

Vivienne Stern, director at UUKi, said, “UK universities have a vital role to play in achieving the government’s goal to make the UK a science superpower by ensuring that UK researchers can work with the best minds from across the world.”

Universities account for over three-quarters of publicly funded research in the country and are “key institutions in economic growth and industrial strategies”.

According to the UUKi report, in 2014-15, universities generated £95 billion in gross output for the economy, directly supported more than 940,000 jobs, created over 3,800 start-ups and about 130 spin-off companies.

“We should seize the opportunity to establish system to system funding”

“At a time when the manifold benefits of international collaboration in scientific research are being daily demonstrated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we should seize the opportunity to establish system to system funding with a range of developed research economies and work to remove barriers to collaboration at all levels of academic endeavour,” commented University of Liverpool vice-chancellor, Janet Beer, who was a key contributor to the paper.

UUKI’s proposals include an award scheme to retain and attract talent, using pre-existing partnerships to create new ones with “current and future research leaders”, as well as supporting government plans to increase the number of international students to 600,000 by 2030.

“The eligibility of international students to all UKRI-funded postgraduate studentships from the start of the 2021/22 academic year announced by UKRI over the summer is welcome and provides an important signal that the UK wants the researchers of the future to choose the UK,” the report stated.

“However, UKRI could go further. The Centres for Doctoral Training and the Doctoral Training Partnerships run by UKRI should seek to extend their global outlook and raise their reputation by providing more capacity to support truly international research projects.”

Stern told The PIE that institutions also had a vital role to play in retaining research talent.

Our goal for the proposed global prestige talent scheme would be to attract and retain talent irrespective of origin,” she said.

“Ongoing efforts are needed by government, funding bodies and institutions themselves to ensure international staff continue to feel welcome in the UK university sector as the new immigration system is implemented and the sector prepares for scenario in which the UK may not be a full participant in the Horizon Europe program.”

The report further calls for a more strategic approach to leveraging the “footprint overseas” of UK universities established through TNE projects.

UK universities have over 40 campuses across 20 countries, while in 2018/19 more than 6,000 students studied UK postgraduate research programs abroad.

“It makes sense to look at what has worked in other countries and to learn from practices elsewhere”

“It looks like a sensible set of proposals, as great things can happen when the world’s best minds are able to make the most of the UK’s strengths in research. It makes sense to look at what has worked in other countries and to learn from practices elsewhere, as UUKi has done,” HEPI director Nick Hillman told The PIE.

“However, if the sorts of proposals UUKi have made are to be fully rolled out and embedded, I suspect they will need to be supplemented by initiatives to increase public understanding of the benefits from reducing national boundaries in research,” he continued.

“Otherwise, there is a risk that the initiative will just look like universities bidding for more public money, when – in fact – it is universities bidding to have a bigger positive impact, including on the post-pandemic recovery and on the quality of people’s lives.”

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