16 August 2019

Big wheels keep on turnin’ – Research and innovation – a Vision for Wales

Followers of HEFCW might have noticed that we have recently published what we informally call “the Vision”.

It’s a new path for HEFCW – to make such a bold statement about our hopes for the future – and it’s taken a lot of time, head-scratching and patience to produce the final document (including some time spent discussing its disco-ball style cover!)

So why did we do it?

If you are familiar with the research and innovation (R&I) landscape across the UK (and possibly if you aren’t), UK Research and Innovation – UKRI – was set up in April 2018. Those paying attention to Welsh university R&I policy will also recall that Professor Graeme Reid’s review of government funded research and innovation was published last year. Brexit preparations were ramping up and among other challenges already facing the UK, there were lots of new ideas and recommendations floating around that created a perfect storm of influences in Wales.

In May 2018 the Chair of our Research, Innovation and Engagement (RIE) Committee changed. Professor Sir Robin Williams passed on the challenge to the new Chair, Professor Mark E Smith, for the committee to seize this opportunity.

That settled it then.

Our committee went on to hold a workshop bringing together universities and other key stakeholders, collaborators and others interested and involved in R&I in Wales to work out where we wanted Wales to be, and how we could make it happen.

The result was the Vision.

HEFCW is regulator and funder first and foremost, but also a supporter and partner of our higher education institutions. We are starting to move on: from being only able to offer QR funding – as part of the dual support system – to support research and innovation in Wales, towards a more engaged and supportive approach in the changing times we face (whilst obviously still including the dual support system). The Vision aims to capture imaginations, recognise the challenges and create a plan that we can support, and deliver in collaboration with higher education sector.

It seems to be going down well, and we have made good progress in hitting our short-term goals:

• The RIE Committee has been replaced with the Research Wales Committee, shaped to more easily demonstrate our alignment to our counterparts east of the border, Research England, and to better engage across the R&I sector to ensure stronger advice to our Council.

• We’re currently consulting on the reintroduction of innovation funding for Welsh universities, which will take the form of the Research Wales: Innovation Fund from 2020/21. And

• In an effort to respond to the Reid recommendation to incentivise providers to win external grant money, Research Wales: Strengthening the research base funding, enabled though additional funds from Welsh Government, means our first year is going to take some beating.

As a relatively new R&I team at HEFCW we hope we’ll bring something new to the table. We’d also love to hear from you about your own hopes for R&I in Wales, while you join us on the journey over the next few years.

And of course please tell us what you think is actually on our Vision’s disco-ball style cover!

Jennifer Evans, Senior Research Manager, HEFCW