Press release

The next government should make the UK the best place in the world for science

Wellcome is calling on the political parties to commit to fulfilling the UK's potential as a global leader in science, research and development (R&D) and innovation. 

By making the UK the best place in the world to do research, the incoming government would be investing in better health for everyone and a stronger economy, Wellcome says.    

This requires the next government to remove barriers for international researchers to come to the UK; commit to long-term public funding for universities; and support the NHS to harness patient data in a responsible way.  In the long term, the UK should aim to lead the G7 for R&D intensity.1

Every public £1 spent on R&D leads to almost twice as much in private investment in science.2 And it gives scientists the opportunity to generate breakthroughs to improve health around the world.  

While other nations such as the US, Germany and China soar ahead with sizeable investments in innovation, the UK risks losing the strategic advantage it holds in areas such as life sciences if it doesn’t take a consistent, long-term approach to improving the science and research landscape.  

“The structure of DNA, the first ‘test-tube’ baby, the first blood transfusion. The UK has a proud tradition of producing breakthroughs in global health. But this can’t be taken for granted,” says John-Arne Røttingen, CEO of Wellcome. 

“The UK should lead the G7 in research intensity and putting research on a sustainable financial footing. This means investing in long-term funding cycles for research, attracting the best international talent and setting up world class research infrastructure. Long-term support will spark new insights and lead to healthier lives. We commit to partnering with the next UK government to achieve this vision.”  

Wellcome, a global health foundation, plans to spend £16bn to support global science over the decade to 2032. It granted two-thirds of its funding to UK research last year (2022/2023.) From this vantage point, Wellcome understands the important role for the next UK government in creating an enabling research environment and the global and domestic impact this can have.  

Wellcome’s Manifesto for Science recommends policies to build up the UK’s global standing in R&D. In the short-term, this requires policies including:  

Reducing upfront costs for international visas  

  • There is a substantial financial difference for researchers coming to the UK compared to other countries. Currently the upfront cost for a family of four on a five-year Global Talent Visa is £20,980, which is multiple times that of other nations.  
  • For the UK to provide a globally competitive offer for researchers, and particularly those early on in their careers, this must be reviewed as a priority.  

In the medium term, policies should include:  

Supporting the NHS to boost research  

  • Unlocking the potential for patient data to play a crucial role in research will help harness the full power of the NHS. This must be supported by proportionate regulation and trustworthy systems that enable the public’s engagement and support.  
  • The UK is currently seeing a steady decline in the number of clinical researchers and academics. Many clinicians have cited major concerns with increasing bureaucracy, time for research being squeezed out, and NHS duties increasing. This must be urgently addressed to make sure the talent and expertise within the NHS is being put to best use.  

Designating laboratories as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects  

  • Access to infrastructure is crucial for driving excellent research. However, the demand for laboratory space is far outpacing supply.  
  • Proposals for new laboratories often face delays due to cumbersome planning processes. To streamline their development, laboratories and other science facilities should be designated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.  

Longer-term, this should lead to policies including:  

Leading the G7 for R&D intensity and put research on a sustainable financial footing  

  • The UK should be leading the G7 in percentage of GDP spent on R&D. The US currently leads the G7 in R&D intensity, with public and private investment amounting to almost 3.5% of GDP, followed by Japan (3.27%), Germany (3.13%) and then the UK (2.9–3%).  
  • The current funding model for research relies on cross-subsidy, mainly from university international student fees. This model is precarious, posing a risk of research funding fluctuating according to the political and economic interests of other nations.  
  • The next government should commit to increase funding cycles to 10 years or more, so that research organisations can focus on achieving great scientific breakthroughs.  

Bringing back the 0.7% Gross National Income target for Official Development Assistance  

  • Through Official Development Assistance (ODA) R&D funding, the UK collaborates with low and middle-income nations across the world to solve urgent health challenges.  
  • The UK Government’s ODA spending commitment was cut in 2021, and it is vital that the 0.7% GNI target for ODA funding is reinstated to support strategic research partnerships with other regions. Within this, ODA spending on R&D must remain a priority.  

“We want to see ambition and commitment from the incoming government”, Martin Smith, Head of Policy Lab adds. “Pledging long-term funding, boosting infrastructure, attracting talent from around the world and supporting the NHS to boost its research and data capacity, will reap dividends to maximise the UK’s place in international science.”  

Notes to Editors 

1 R&D intensity for a country is defined as the R&D expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP.)

2 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. The relationship between public and private R&D funding. March 2020. Accessed via: