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Why does scientific research need funding?




Scientific Research

Without scientific research, you wouldn’t be reading this. Your tablet, laptop, or phone, wouldn’t exist. Neither would the electrical grid that lets you charge it overnight (when you remember to plug it in). Or, for that matter, the spandex in your athleisure leggings, the waterproof coating on your rain jacket, or the global trade routes that brought those Guatemalan coffee beans to the UK to be roasted and ground and ultimately turned into the cup of coffee you had this morning.

Human ingenuity and the advancements it’s created have changed not just the way we live, but the planet we live on. That has been clear for a long time, and it was formalised recently when scientists officially announced that we’re in a new epoch, the Anthropocene. The announcement came after two decades of speculation that post-industrial human activity has pushed us out of the Holocene and into a new era: the Age of Humans.

Knowing this, or even suspecting it, you’d be forgiven for assuming that research projects aimed at benefiting society and building on the achievements of this new age (not to mention fixing some serious mistakes) are well-funded and made a priority by governments. Sadly, that’s not the case.

The Lay of the Land: Research Funding in the UK

In fact, in the UK, as in other countries, research and development funded by corporations with a focus on profit far outweighs research carried out by universities with a focus on furthering human knowledge. To be precise, in the UK in 2020 we spent £44bn on corporate projects vs £13.9bn on university research projects. These are big numbers — so let’s take a look at what they mean. To put the numbers into context, in an independent review of the UK’s funding research in 2023, Sir Paul Nurse found that, “despite being one of the world’s leading economies the UK’s spending on research is around 2.7% of GDP, compared to countries like Germany, South Korea or the US, where spending on research is up to 4.6% of GDP.”

Given the pressing need to find answers to both the essential problems of human existence and correct the unknowing missteps of the Anthropocene so far, this is shocking. After all, in altering the world to suit human needs we set in motion not only great advancements in technology and quality of life for many people, but also near-intractable problems, it is now our responsibility to solve. If the first (potentially) 200 years of the Anthropocene were about moulding the Earth to fit our requirements, the next 200 should be about finding ways to live that works for the Earth. There is no way to do that without funding scientific research properly.

Whether it’s finding cleaner sources of energy, reversing the impact we have already had on the natural world, or resolving the health issues created by our longer lifespans and climate change, the only way to find answers to pressing questions is through scientific discovery. That means publicly funded research. But in the UK, there’s a serious funding gap preventing that from happening. To break it down, research projects at universities are funded primarily by the public sector (the government and related organisations), but there just isn’t enough money going into the area. In fact, the ever-glaring gap between research income and the cost of research reached £4bn in 2020 (it’s worth noting that tuition fees are generally not a source of funding for scientific research at universities, as they are used by the universities themselves to cover their own running costs).

Science Card: Closing the Gap Using Financial Services

We created Science Card to close the funding gap in a new way and help put the UK back into a pre-eminent position in global research and innovation. As a country, we already have the world-class university system and strong research workforce required — almost 190,000 people work in scientific research in higher education alone — we just need the funding to keep and grow both.

On a wider scale, we created Science Card because we believe in building a better world for everyone.

We want to help find solutions to climate change, inequality, renewable energy, and more. It’s also very likely that some of the biggest breakthroughs of the Anthropocene haven’t even been thought of yet — and that’s why research aimed at moving human thought forwards rather than creating profit is essential.

Founding Science Card required us to build a completely new infrastructure for sourcing high-impact research projects and showcasing them on the Science Card app, and for directing funding straight to those projects with the help of forward-thinkers like you.

It’s a faster, more efficient path for funding to be deployed to the vital research that requires it. The research is able to get underway sooner, meaning that their discoveries have the potential to be widely adopted without delay. If we can play a part in enabling scientific discovery to flourish, we stand to build a more sustainable future for us all.