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IOP launches research and development blueprint report

21 September 2022

Investing in physics crucial to tackling UK’s challenges and ensuring energy security, says IOP report, Physics: Investing in our Future.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) today called for a clear, comprehensive and stable long-term vision for research and development (R&D) as it published a report warning the UK could be left behind if it fails to invest in physics.

At a launch event in Westminster this morning the IOP’s report provided preliminary findings which will inform further work with business, industry and academic partners to develop proposals for the more radical reforms needed to build a thriving R&D system in the UK.

It identifies and calls for changes across each of the four core pillars of the physics R&D system – discovery, business innovation, people and infrastructure.

And it argues timely investment in physics R&D can help the UK economy recover and rebuild from the impact of the current energy price squeeze and cost of living crisis.

Physics-based businesses play a significant and highly productive role in the UK economy, generating £230bn in gross value added, the equivalent to 11% of UK gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.

But today’s report argues that without a long-term plan and the right level of investment the UK economy could lose out on thousands of jobs and solutions to some of the greatest economic and social challenges of the future.

It says that by taking the right steps to establish a thriving physics R&D system, we can deliver transformative benefits in every part of the UK, including crucially important technologies around energy security.

It calls on government to implement a target to increase discovery research spend in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, as part of a target of spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D investment by 2027.

The report also argues there should be above-inflation increases in the Research Councils’ core budgets to 2027, to provide a stable environment in which discovery science can flourish.

And it flags major challenges which are preventing the UK from developing the workforce needed for physics R&D to thrive.

In a separate piece of research commissioned by the IOP, businesses were found to be scaling back R&D plans because of a shortage of people with the right skills in the current workforce.

Commenting on today’s publication, the group chief executive of the IOP, Tom Grinyer, said: “Today’s report should be a wake-up call to anyone who is committed to the UK’s future as a prosperous, sustainable, technologically advanced nation.

“At a time when we are facing concerns over energy bills and the cost of living it might seem we could ignore the kinds of longer-term concerns about R&D – but now is the time to invest in the science and innovations, which can help prevent these kinds of crises in the future.

“The IOP has called for the government to meet the target of spending at least 2.4% of GDP on R&D, but that needs to be just the starting point.

“The UK is at a critical juncture: we can either take action and invest in physics to secure a place at the forefront of the new industrial era; or we can maintain our current course and be left behind.”

Tony McBride, director of policy and public affairs for the IOP, added: “Physics: Investing in our Future, draws on the IOP’s 100-plus years of expertise as the UK and Ireland’s learned society and professional body for physics, and the unique role its 22,000 members play today in linking physics research, innovation and education.

“This report is the latest of the IOP’s programme of work aiming to unlock the full potential of physics R&D for society and the economy.

“The IOP believes the UK needs a clear, comprehensive and long-term vision for R&D, which instils confidence among researchers and innovators, and unleashes ingenuity wherever it is found.”