The UK government has put a Bill before Parliament which, if passed, will result in the merging of the body responsible for innovation (Innovate UK) with seven major research councils. In the article below, the author states that the move is essential and will help to link-up the UK’s innovative businesses and its prestigious research base. Others aren’t so keen on the idea.
There are concerns in academic circles (here) that unless the needs of businesses and basic research institutions are met through separate organisations, the UK could gradually shift its research focus too far away from basic research. The same article also notes the worry of some in industry that as the minor partner in the arrangement with multiple large research councils, Innovate UK’s impact could be reduced. So there is some concern from both sides.
The boundary between the bodies responsible for basic research and those responsible for commercialisation is more blurred in the US than in the UK. This excellent article questions the effects that the increasing commercial focus of US academic institutions will have on scientific research and raises similar concerns. The article uses the example of the exciting CRISPR technology and the on-going patent interference dispute between the US academic institutions that claim to have first invented it (background info here), but the concerns raised are more generally applicable.
It is good that these issues have been raised at this stage in the UK, even though it seems inevitable that the merger will go ahead. There does seem to be an appreciation from all sides that basic research and applied research are both too important to be comprised. Let’s hope we’re capable of avoiding that.
Of course we want our publicly-funded scientists working towards solutions to the problems faced by society. But most would agree that untargeted basic research should also be well funded. Even if the benefits of basic research aren’t felt by society immediately, they frequently become invaluable further down the line. The impact of basic research can be advantageously unpredictable, often opening up entire new fields of research and unimagined technological advances.