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8 February 2023

The Policy Ask with Tim Bradshaw: “R&D investment will give us the talent to tackle climate change and pandemics”

The chief executive of the Russell Group on barriers to global academic collaboration and the need for a Zero Carbon Act.

By Spotlight

Tim Bradshaw is the chief executive of the Russell Group, the association of 24 leading UK universities. Bradshaw has worked at the Russell Group since 2012 in senior policy roles before being appointed chief executive in 2017. He joined from the Confederation of British Industry and, previously, Bradshaw has worked with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the House of Lords, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

How do you start your working day?
Catching up on emails and the latest news, especially from the higher education press (Research Professional and Wonkhe), with a decent cup of coffee. Usually, I’ll do this while on a train to Euston.

What has been your career high?
Working with brilliant people. I’ve got a super team at the Russell Group, real experts I can call up right across our 24 member universities, and passionate vice-chancellors who are doing an incredible job despite the backdrop of economic and political turmoil.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?
Dealing with people who are so ideological that they won’t accept evidence and reasoned argument to the contrary. To be fair, that has not always been politicians, but it would help if party ideology could be put aside more often to deliver evidence-based policy.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?
Be more confident to expand horizons, try new things and network more widely.

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Which political figure inspires you, and why?
David Sainsbury was an excellent science minister [under Tony Blair]: knowledgeable, politically astute and determined to raise the profile of research and innovation as an investment. I always enjoyed meeting with him while I was working for the Confederation of British Industry.

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What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?
It was good to see the new Prime Minister and Chancellor stick with previous commitments to invest £20bn a year in research and development by 2024-25. In the short term, this will create thousands of high-value jobs and stimulate the business investment needed to kick-start economic growth. In the medium to longer term we will see new technologies, medicines and ideas spun out of universities, feeding innovation clusters across the country. And as an evergreen investment, we’ll have the talent and knowledge base at our fingertips to deal with the real challenges facing us, such as climate change, pandemics and the ageing population.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?
The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme [Firs] proposals in the National Security Bill are a mess. There is no differential between links with North Korea or with friendly states such as Denmark, so the registration requirements will create huge amounts of burden and real legal headaches. Firs will create a chilling effect in terms of academic collaboration and business links with friendly countries, and more barriers to foreign investment here.

What upcoming policy or law are you most looking forward to?
Can I cheat and say that I’m really looking forward to the next set of general election manifestos? I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment and will read each of them avidly. What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from? I think the bigger question is whether the government can rein itself in and learn to govern properly. A period of stability and fiscal competence is required to give confidence again – to business, the markets and individuals. The government also needs to demonstrate that it can be trusted internationally and work harder to make amends with our nearest neighbours.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?
A Zero Carbon Act backed up with (at least) Ministry of Defence levels of public investment to transform every aspect of the UK, and create a paradigm shift in how the economy and society work.

[See also: Without maths skills, people are excluded from society]