Researchers shortage as Welsh universities lag behind

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Media captionLouise Bright from the Leadership Foundation said research stimulates the economy

Wales has a shortage of academics working in science, engineering, maths and medicine which needs to be tackled, a higher education think tank warns.

As a result, universities are losing out on millions of pounds of research grants which could boost the economy, says a report by the Leadership Foundation.

But the research quality has improved "significantly" over the last decade.

The Welsh government said it recognised the need to increase research capacity.

The report examines Wales' 20-year record on university research, particularly in science, technology and medical disciplines - so-called STEMM subjects.

Image copyright BBC/Leadership Foundation
Image caption Wales has a target of winning 5% of UK research funding

Wales has managed to improve its international research impact, closing the gap on England and Scotland and, in the process, outperforming many European and international countries of similar size.

However, much of the research in Wales is carried out in the arts and humanities which does not generate as much money as areas like engineering and medicine.

And when compared with the rest of the UK - Wales' total research income is only 87% of the research income secured by the University of Edinburgh.

Not enough research money was coming from business, compared to England and larger European countries, with a reliance on the higher education funding pot.

For more than a decade the Welsh government has had a target that universities in Wales should aim to win 5% of the funding available for research in the UK.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The disciplines below the standard numbers of research staff in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM)

The report finds a "deficit" of 600 research staff involved with STEMM subjects, in particular clinical medicine, biosciences, physics, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and maths.

Ministers have already recognised this problem, launching the Sêr Cymru initiative in 2012, which contributed £50m towards attracting more scientific researchers.

But Wales lags behind the rest of the UK and much of the EU in how much money is spent on research within universities - total gross expenditure on research and development or GERD.

This is seen as a key driver of growth in the economy. At £569m in 2012, in Wales this was 2.1% of the UK's total of £27bn.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "Researchers in Wales are among the best in the world.

"The Research Excellence Framework 2014 found more than three-quarters of the research submitted by universities in Wales to be world-leading or internationally excellent, a significant improvement on the results in 2008.

"However we recognise the need to increase our research capacity, particularly in STEMM subjects."

Image copyright Betina Skovbro/Cardiff University

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