SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

SPRU History

SPRU was founded in 1966 by Christopher Freeman and was one of the world’s first interdisciplinary research centres in the field of science and technology policy.

"We commissioned the SPRU History Project to record the voices of the institution's rich trajectory. SPRU has maintained a significant reputation, nationally and internationally for 50 years. This is quite an accomplishment." Johan Schot

Chris Freeman (September 11, 1921 – August 16, 2010), an economist, was one of the most eminent researchers in innovation studies, and among modern Kondratiev wave and business cycle theorists. Chris was invited to set up the unit by Asa Briggs (then the University Pro Vice Chancellor) and became its first Director (1966 – 1982). Alongside his role as Director of SPRU, Chris was RM Phillips Professor of Science Policy and later Professor Emeritus here at Sussex. His fields of specialization were the economics of innovation and technical change, science and technology indicators and definitions of R&D (leading to the 1963 Frascati Manual), the diffusion of technologies, structural change in the world economy, and the ‘catch-up’ efforts of developing countries. His influence on generations of researchers was wide and profound. Programs that have their origins in his work can be traced at leading public policy institutions across the world. Together with colleagues at SPRU and internationally, Chris founded and edited the journal 'Research Policy' which became the leading journal in the field and is today edited by Ben Martin (another former SPRU Director), Ed Steinmueller and Paul Nightingale.

Find out more about Chris Freeman and his influence, alongside tributes from colleagues, students and collaborators.

Joined from the outset by Geoff Oldham and administrative pioneer Jackie Fuller, Chris worked with a number of other renowned academics and SPRU quickly became a pioneering institution, leading the field and breaking new ground throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Attracting grants both from the UK and internationally, SPRU was able to attract many leading researchers and thinkers from around the world, including Martin Bell John Chesshire, Charles Cooper, Giovanni Dosi, Michael Gibbons, Jonathan Gershuny, Marie Jahoda, Mary Kaldor, Ben Martin, Ian Miles , Julian Robinson, Roy Rothwell, John Surrey, Luc Soete, Nick von Tunzelmann and William Walker, while many other eminent researchers were visitors to SPRU, in particular ,Richard R. Nelson, and Carlota Perez.

SPRU’s world-renowned, multi-disciplinary research has helped policy makers to address real-world problems for 50 years. The innovative and collaborative approach taken by the SPRU team has seen contributions to both theory and practice, and also inspired countless researchers and students. This combination of theory and practice, alongside a strong focus on external engagement within academia, the policy world and beyond, remains to this day.

Running Masters and PhD programmes formally since the early 1980s, but committed to pioneering teaching and supervision in the field since the Unit’s inception, SPRU is one of the largest academic bodies in the world studying science, technology and innovation. Attracting top students from all over the world, many former SPRU PhDs and staff have gone onto influence science policy around the world and play leading roles in academia. Its international impact has been developed through SPRU’s alumni diaspora; a long-standing Visiting Fellows programme, and extensive faculty networks. As we look ahead to our 50th anniversary in 2016, we are committed to building on their contributions to tackle today’s pressing global challenges.

Today we have over 50 faculty members at the forefront of new ideas, problem-oriented research, and creative, high impact engagement with decision makers. Inspiring research-led teaching is core to our mission with an outstanding portfolio of taught Masters courses and PhD programmes developed over five innovative and exciting decades.

We are extremely proud of our history, and excited for the future. We will mark our 50th anniversary in 2016 through a series of events linked to our ambitious new strategy ‘Transforming Innovation’, which is focused on long-term transformative change and innovation.

See the SPRU brochure for more information on our world-class research and our inspirational team.

See information about opportunities to study at SPRU.