So as the Nurse review recommendations are implemented and the outcomes of the autumn statements from Chancellors’ past and present come to fruition, the research funding scenario is evolving. Throw in to that mix what will happen with the UK’s participation in H2020 programme post Brexit means it certainly is interesting times.


Global Challenges Fund

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. Nearly all the uplift to the Science budget (2016-2020) is associated with the GCRF and the (related) Newton Fund. Whilst opening up great opportunities to ensuring leading edge UK research is making real impact in emerging nations, there are also pitfalls to avoid. Clearly researchers need to get their heads around the UN sustainable development goals (SDG) as well the UK aid strategy to ensure their bright ideas don’t fall foul of not providing the support to the communities and countries that the GCRF is meant to benefit. It also throws up challenges to those not accustomed to working in this environment. Of course many of the countries receiving official development assistance (ODA) are in parts of the world that carry large risk, both personally and institutionally. Often there will be a need to establish new research collaborations and understand cultural differences and checks to not fall foul of UK law. For those brave enough to dip their toe in the water (one of the UN’s SDG!) the rewards could be large, not only financially but also in changing the lives of millions of people for the better. There are great opportunities for researchers here.


Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

In the 2016 autumn statement the Chancellor announced £4.7 billion (by 2020-21) to spend on enhancing the UK’s position in science & innovation on the global stage. This is the biggest uplift in R&D investment since 1979. It is anticipated there will be two avenues for this funding. One probably through Innovate UK and UK RI and the other through the industrial strategy challenge fund (ISCF). The ISCF is rumoured to be modelled on the US DARPA system meaning it will fund ground breaking challenge-based research. The funding challenge is that the research funding will be focussed at both the commercial and University sector. It will become paramount that we forge even closer links with our current industrial partners and develop new ones. DARPA was initiated in the late 1950’s in the US as a response to the launch of Sputnik and funded the technology that gave rise to the internet. It perhaps is only a matter of time before the phrase “white heat of technology” re-enters the political lexicon. The recent green paper is already signposting the “winners” the Government are hoping for: smart/clean energy technologies; robotics & AI; space technologies; healthcare & medicine; material & manufacturing; biotech (with an explicit mention of synthetic bio quantum techs) and transformative digital technologies. It was interesting to note in the same Green paper the Government acknowledging the need to reach out beyond the “golden triangle.”


Photography PA Archive (Guardian 19th Sept 2013)

Harold Wilson and “white heat of technology” speech.


H2020 and the future of EU research funding

Given the overall uplift in the R&D budget is this a precursor of loss of access to the EU H2020 programme though not according to the recent speech from the Prime Minister? Nations outside of the EU, such as Switzerland and Israel, pay to have access to the H2020 research programme. As Switzerland found to their cost, in their own referendum around immigration, the EU is insistent on the freedom of movement. Following the Swiss electorate decision, the Swiss only had “partial” association between September 2014 and the end of December 2016, until a compromise was put in place. The UK has been very successful in securing EU research funds, with a net flow of research funding to the UK.

Posted in: GCRF, Global Challenges Research Fund, H2020, Industrial Strategy Research Fund, Nurse review, ODA


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