Reflections on the UKRI five-year strategy

Posted on May 24, 2022   by Jess Lloyd

On 14 March 2022, the Department of Business, Energy and Infrastructure (BEIS) published its internal allocations for how it will spend its first multi-year research and development (R&D) budget since 2015. Three days later, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) released their five-year strategy for 2022 to 2027. Here, our recent Policy and Engagement Intern Jess Lloyd reflects on the research and innovation landscape in the UK and how the UKRI strategy will shape it in the next five years.


The UK government has set a clear ambition for the UK to become a global science superpower. In recognition of this and to support these ambitions, the government has pledged to reach 2.4% R&D intensity in the UK by 2027, catalysed by a substantial increase in public investment in R&D.

In the 2021 Spending Review, the Chancellor set out the first multi-year R&D budget since 2015, which was an exciting step forward. BEIS has since published its own plan for allocating the money, where UKRI is now set to receive over £25bn in the next three years. This means that UKRI will be well-paced to sustainably direct its investment. However, despite the budget rising around 6% per year, it is still likely to be outpaced by inflation in the immediate term. In addition, the settlement does not include investments managed on behalf of BEIS, such as Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, which means the future of ODA-funded research remains uncertain.

Following this allocation, UKRI have published their new strategy, which sets out their ambitious vision for the next five years. The strategy highlights that we are at ‘one of the most important and exciting times in the history of research and innovation in the UK’. Encouragingly, UKRI emphasise that they have a critical role of to play in this new R&D landscape; to shape and support R&D as it continues to evolve and strengthen.

At the same time, they also emphasise that there have been complex and demanding challenges to overcome as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, UKRI hope to deliver a strategy that focuses on diversity, connectivity, resilience, and engagement to drive necessary change. The strategic framework is structured around six grand strategic objectives: world-class people and careers, places, ideas, innovation, impacts and organisation. The strategy aims to make the UK the most attractive destination for talented scientists by providing cutting-edge infrastructure, incentivising multidisciplinary research, accelerating translation and commercialisation, and improving financial sustainability of research and innovation organisations across the UK. In short, the scale and breadth of its strategic aspirations is enormous.

This new long-term vision is welcome and important for the continuity of microbiology research and key to strengthening UKRI as an organisation, as well as maintaining engagement with stakeholders. Moreover, the actions that UKRI propose to combat poor research culture are promising. In 2020, the Wellcome Trust published the results of the largest every survey into experiences of research culture, which revealed that poor research culture is leading to unhealthy competition, bullying and harassment, and mental health issues. These findings were echoed in the Society’s recently published position statement, calling for employers, funders and governments to prioritise and better support early career microbiologists. Universities and research institutions are unlikely to embed change without key principles set out by UKRI and we hope that by recognising that they are ‘uniquely positioned to catalyse efforts to deliver this’, change will be implemented.

While the ambitions set out by UKRI are welcome, it is unclear how these will be implemented effectively. Unfortunately, UKRI’s strategy does not detail how these statements will be substantiated with tangible action plans, or indeed, measurable ways of assessing to what extent the strategy has been achieved. This falls in line with their recent draft equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) consultation to which the Society has responded; highlighting that, despite having respectable ambition, grand statements are not accompanied by tangible plans and measurable outcomes. Ultimately, the next important step for this strategy will be to see whether the aspirations set by UKRI are backed up by ring-fenced budgets and tangible outcomes in the months and years ahead.


Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Government announces plans for largest ever R&D budget, 2022.

UK Research and Innovation. UKRI Strategy 2022 to 2027, 2022.

Wellcome. What researchers thing about the culture they work in, 2021.

Microbiology Society. Safeguarding the future of the microbiology research and innovation workforce, 2021.