Levelling-up will need three things in the research space: multi-sector access to data infrastructure, better visibility of the research estate and long-range analysis of data to understand success
"On a wide variety of measures, regional disparities in the UK are greater than in most comparable countries." That’s the outcome of a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and was echoed in the Queen’s speech this week, which unveiled a raft of new legislation in a bid to supercharge its levelling-up agenda.
Many organisations have put forward issues that need to be addressed such as employment rates, pay, health and formal education, but there seems to be fairly broad agreement that one of the central issues is the differences in productivity between regions.
Research and innovation are a major driver of productivity and Jisc proposes three things that can support this sector locally, nationally and internationally.
We see a clear opportunity for high-quality, well-supported research and innovation infrastructure to be deployed for the benefit of all communities.
Research and innovation are increasingly dependent on infrastructure – on network capacity, cyber security, connectivity and managed cloud environments. Research is also reliant upon access governance to manage, store, move and analyse the ever-growing volumes and complexity of data.
Underpinned by existing infrastructure, such as our world-leading Janet Network, there’s a need to expand capability through flexible and often existing solutions.
The aim is to support research and innovation collaboration by implementing data-focused infrastructure more rapidly. We see increasing demand for bringing together civic and commercial research within well-governed, trusted research environments.
Meeting this demand will allow the UK to work faster and more collaboratively, lowering barriers between sectors and making civic research and innovation infrastructure more inclusive.
Creating a joined-up infrastructure will also reduce the lag between grant approval and implementation, as well as reduce the carbon footprint and costs of moving research consortia through technology as it develops.
We also need to understand the impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence. These technologies demand ethical approaches specific to academic subjects and different academic communities. We’ve recently launched a centre for AI to support excellence in this field.
A review of the research estate will also be an important component in support of the levelling up agenda.
Physical and intangible assets which comprise the research estate such as equipment, facilities, code and software, algorithms, and even methods are central to equitable access to the research and innovation ecosystem.
The first step in managing inequality is to map out UK’s research capability. A clear picture of which areas are well equipped and where there are gaps in research capabilities will support a more robust and interconnected research and innovation landscape.
We already manage a platform which aggregates data about large pieces of research equipment. We are beginning to work with UK higher education mission groups to look at how we can coordinate the visibility of more research assets.
The opportunity is there to focus UK open research output into the local context, linking further and higher education and civic institutions. Often it is simply a matter of signposting, for greater consumption of research outputs and resources.
Data produced as part of research management could also be used on a greater scale to transform research systems and culture and improve decision making. Enhanced analytical capacity is needed to build strategic alliances and connections to extend the potential of data, which otherwise lies untapped.
We run data services, for example through the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), our participation in the UK Data Service, and our learning analytics service. We note the potential for a better understanding of research and innovation capacity through convening more data and long-range analysis to understand the potential for economic impact and investment, and understand that capability with additional nuance, over time.
We see a need to:
- Understand the links between the investment of research funding and the resilience of local communities, economies and infrastructure.
- Address relative exclusion from access to the research and innovation ecosystem and
- Offer the potential for much more locally defined impact.
Once achieved, this will support data-driven investment decisions to enhance regional capability.
As the UK commits further to removing barriers to innovation, the breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spin-outs from research is set to grow.
Moving collaboration and commercialisation ‘off-campus’ is creating a vibrant ecosystem of institutions that require the same access to research facilities. The Janet Network enables that rapid and secure scaling for multi-sector collaborators.
At a time that technology develops at pace, it is vital to further embed inclusive and location-accessible, secure, and high-capacity infrastructure. This will leverage diverse innovation and new forms of impact which extends more and more effectively into the civic space.
From the Jisc perspective, infrastructure can continue to democratise research and innovation and support capability across the UK.
Victoria Moody gave evidence to the Higher Education Commission’s inquiry into the role of research in levelling up. Chaired by Chris Skidmore MP and Lord Norton of Louth, the inquiry is investigating how university and private sector research can be better used to drive the levelling up of economic prosperity across the UK.