EPSRC/RSC Joint Report 'The Economic Benefits of Chemistry Research for the UK'

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I. Introduction

A study, produced by Oxford Economics (1), was commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to 'examine the many channels which chemistry research contributes to the UK economy and to provide a quantitative and qualitative analysis of just how much it benefits the UK'. The outcome of this study was published in September 2010 in a 136-page report (plus appendices) entitled 'The economic benefits of chemistry research to the UK'. This Commentary offers a summary of the findings of the Report and also notes subsequent reports in the media on the benefits of scientific research in general to the UK economy. The Report in full is available online (2).

2. Definitions and methodologies

The Report utilised different methodologies for estimating the impact of 'upstream' and 'downstream' chemical industries.

'Upstream' is defined as the manufacture of chemicals and derived products according to the standard government industrial classification (SIC) (3) (details of the industries coming within this classification are given below). The importance of chemistry research to these industries was gauged from a series of structured interviews with businesses operating within the sector, academia and specialist research centres. Its economic impact was based on analysis of input-output data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS); it comprises direct, indirect and induced impacts which in total make up the supply chain of the upstream chemicals industry.

The 'downstream' chemicals industry was defined as 15 major chemicals-using industries, namely: aerospace, automotive, construction and materials, energy, electronics, extraction and refining of petroleum products, farming, food and drink, forestry and paper, health, home and personal care, packaging, textiles, water.

Analysis of the impact of these diverse industries required a 3-step process:

(1) Use UK input-output tables to analyse which industries purchased the most from the upstream sector, and other chemicals-using sectors. This led to identification of the 15 sectors detailed above. The unadjusted economic input of these sectors was the total GDP and employment within these sectors.

(2) Adjust the GDP and employment totals on the basis of how important chemistry research is in enabling the sector to operate; this involved using information from the UK input-output tables together with structured discussion with relevant parties to produce a weighting for each sector, leading to a corresponding chemistry-related GDP and employment figure for that individual sector.

(3) The totalling of the figures for the individual sectors led to the integrated direct impact of the downstream industry on the UK economy. (The final figure excludes contributions from indirect and induced activity to prevent double counting).

The approach can be summarised thus:

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3. Report structure

The Report comprises five chapters and an Annex, and is prefaced by a Foreword and Executive Summary.

Chapter I introduces the Report.

Chapter 2 quantifies the economic benefits of the chemistry-dependent upstream sector.

Chapter 3 considers the role of chemistry research in the downstream chemistry-using industries and quantifies the extent to which their economic contribution depends on chemistry research.

Chapter 4 outlines the wider impact chemistry research can have on the UK.

Chapter 5 presents detailed downstream results, illustrating from case studies the facilitating role of chemistry research in the key 15 chemistry-using industries noted above.

Chapter 6 is the Annex, which describes, in a series of annexes: the study methodology; examples of current collaborative industry-university projects; a set of 'highly-ranked' chemistry institutions; examples of key research centres; labour skills and productivity in the upstream chemistry sector; trade and the upstream chemistry industry; the economic significance of R&D; sector calculation tables (GDP and employment-weighted and unweighted. …