United Kingdom

The indicators in the table below present a synthesis of research, innovation and competitiveness in the United Kingdom. They relate knowledge investment and input to performance or economic output throughout the innovation cycle. They show thematic strengths in key technologies and also the hightech and medium-tech contribution to the trade balance. The table includes a new index on excellence in science and technology which takes into consideration the quality of scientific production as well as technological development. The indicator on knowledge-intensity of the economy is an index on structural change that focuses on the sectoral composition and specialisation of the economy and shows the evolution of the weight of knowledge-intensive sectors and products and services.


The UK shows overall innovation performance above the EU average. There are particular strengths in human resources, venture capital, international and public-private co-publications, and entrepreneurship. The number of collaborations by innovative SMEs with other entities is increasing rapidly, while rates of improvement in human resources and international co-publications are well above average. The presence of several world-class universities, a significant proportion of young doctoral graduates, and competitive strengths in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and digital technologies have helped achieve this strong performance. However, there are relative weaknesses in RDI investments by firms, the creation of intellectual assets, and SMEs introducing innovations.

The UK economy has several distinctive characteristics that represent actual or potential sources of competitive advantage in the innovation sphere: a world-leading science base and information infrastructure; a prominent financial sector (although this could be better incentivised to support the creation and growth of firms); a rich supply of high-level skills plus a proven attractiveness to globally mobile talents; strong performance by business in creating intangible assets; and a relatively large role of the service sector for industry and export performance.

These characteristics, highlighted by the UK Government in its new strategy for innovation published at the end of 2011, underpin the four priority areas identified for policy development: strengthening the sharing and dissemination of knowledge within the innovation system; fostering the development and use of a more coherent innovation infrastructure; driving business innovation in all sectors of the economy — high-tech, medium-tech and low-tech, and in the services sector; and transforming the public sector into a major driver of innovation. Apart from the recent abolition of regional development agencies, which represents a significant change in the innovation policy delivery infrastructure, the UK continues to benefit from a key strength of its innovation policy governance system: a long-term, strategic view of innovation policy informed by an extensive process of review and evaluation and benefiting from a relative absence of dramatic shifts in priorities, instruments or structures.