Eight in ten firms say R&D has suffered during the pandemic

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Date: 18 May 2021

An R&D team assess a new product they are developing

The vast majority of businesses that carry out research and innovation work in the UK have reported delays or stoppages to research activities during the pandemic, according to a new poll.

A survey of 500 R&D active businesses, conducted by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) and The University of Cambridge, has found that research activities have been significantly curtailed by COVID-19.

The key findings show that:

  • 81% of businesses reported delays or stoppages to research during the pandemic
  • 12% had to stop research activity altogether
  • 77% saw delays to product/service demonstrations, testing and/or trial production
  • 96% reported changes to collaborative projects with universities

Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive of NCUB, said the findings prove that the pandemic "has had a detrimental effect on businesses' ability to engage in research and development (R&D) activities in the UK".

He said: "COVID-19 has affected research and innovation activities, but it is precisely these activities that will be vitally important to our recovery. It is therefore hugely concerning that these new results show that businesses that currently invest in R&D in the UK have suffered significant delays and stoppages to their innovation activity. The pressure for the nation to position itself as a global competitor for further R&D investment has truly never been greater, and this needs to be rectified urgently."

The NCUB is urging the government to act now to ensure businesses and the R&D infrastructure are supported. "The UK should be world leading, yet in the last ten years we spent £44 billion less on R&D than we would have if we had invested at the OECD average," said Marshall. "The government has, however, previously committed to spending £22 billion on R&D in 2024/25 and it is imperative for the nation's future, that they do not lose sight of this promise."

Tomas Ulrichsen, director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "What is most concerning from the evidence presented in this report is the significant disruption to prototyping, demonstration, testing and trial production as a result of the pandemic. These activities are crucial for converting the ideas and technologies developed through R&D into economic and commercial value that benefits the UK. An effective and coordinated approach from government is urgently needed to support not just R&D but also its translation and commercialisation into economic value."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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