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How QR funding supports innovation and jobs in our universities

A fibre laser cutting metal at the Zepler Institute. Fibre lasers use considerably less energy than traditional methods and are a key means of decarbonising manufacturing.
A fibre laser cutting metal at Southampton's Zepler Institute.

Quality-related research funding (QR) has been described by the Russell Group of universities as “the invisible force holding up the UK’s research ecosystem”.

Without it, the Russell Group argues that much vital research work would not have happened, from the development of graphene, to the discovery of new tests and treatments for conditions including diabetes, depression and dementia.

A series of case studies by the Russell Group highlight how QR has been used to help our universities to develop world-leading facilities and help address national priorities with their research. This type of funding is awarded to universities based on the results of the Research Excellence Framework exercise.

One case study highlighted how QR funding has helped support the development of a world leading photonics and nanoelectronics cluster around the University of Southampton‘s Zepler Institute.

This funding has supplemented core research funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and industry partnerships. Research outcomes include advances in optical fibre and optical amplifier technology that have been crucial to enabling high-speed communications by the internet and mobile phones.

Industry-focused approach

The interdisciplinary, industry-focused approach to research taken by teams at the Zepler Institute has resulted in the successful commercialisation of a range of cutting-edge products such as new fibres used by NASA in the Mars Explorer.

The existence of the institute has helped to propel Southampton into the UK’s top five tech superclusters, according to estates consultancy CBRE, with the institute and its spin outs employing more than 400 people directly.

But there are concerns that since the early 2000s, the QR block grant has not kept pace with the increases in research council funding.

Funding from QR enables a variety of projects including the creation of institutes, initiatives, and programmes to provide novel insights. One example at University College London is the creation of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP).

Interdisciplinary research

Part of the Faculty of the Built Environment, IIPP was established with QR funding and explores how public policy and economic growth can be driven by public purpose, through interdisciplinary research and working with international partners. Researchers involved in the institute are drawn from across UCL and working on research that includes projects covering Artificial Intelligence, health innovation and technological change.

Other SES members that have harnessed QR for research and innovation activities include Queen Mary University of London, whose Bioenterprises Innovation Centre (QMB) is also highlighted by the Russell Group.

The QMB has created or safeguarded 437 full time jobs – exceeding the 250 job target initially set – and assisted 195 businesses, compared to an initial Greater London Authority target of 20.

At the University of Cambridge, QR funding supports interdisciplinary research by supporting research networks. Some of these research initiatives and networks are envisaged as evolving into research centres that would be self-sustaining, according to a recent report by the university’s Bennett Institute.

In a blog accompanying the report, the QR block grant is credited for creating an environment where new ideas can be conceived and incubated.

For more case studies like these, please see the Russell Group website.