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Research Opportunities in the 2020s

Science and innovation policy are in upheaval in the UK. A new government says it wants to increase national R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP, more than 40% higher than in 2017, the last year we have figures for. Yet at the same time, it is carrying out a spending review to justify ‘every penny’ the government spends. In the Queen’s speech, there was a commitment to create a ‘new approach to funding high-risk, high-payoff research in emerging fields of research and technology.’ UKRI – with its budget of more than £7b across the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England – is looking for a new chief executive to take office later this year. And then there’s Brexit, which threatens to put an end to the UK’s customary participation in the EU framework programme.

A sceptic may be tempted to treat optimistic government announcements about its science policy with a pinch of salt. But only last week, it announced a series of measures that are already taking place. There’s to be a new Global Talent visa scheme taking effect on 20 February. And by the end of the month, the Pathways to Impact and impact summary sections that have been part of your funding applications to research councils since 2007 will be gone.

Where is this British science upheaval heading? How will it affect you as a researcher at a university in the UK? Exact answers at this point are impossible, but I’ll give you my thoughts on what the safer bets are and one or two wild speculations.