The UK government has confirmed that it will spend an extra £2 billion a year by 2020-21 on collaboration between business and scientists as well as creating a technology fund modelled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the US military research agency credited with developing the internet.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced the extra money earlier this week, but there had been concerns it might go to areas less likely to directly benefit universities, such as research tax credits for companies.
The Autumn Statement makes clear the extra £2 billion – a 20 per cent increase in government research and development spending, according to the statement – will be distributed by UK research councils and Innovate UK in two funding streams.
The first is an “Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund”, a cross-disciplinary fund that will “support collaborations between business and the UK’s science base, which will set identifiable challenges for UK researchers to tackle”.
Based on Darpa, the fund will back technologies “decided by an evidence-based process”.
There will also be second stream of funding to “increase research capacity and business innovation, to further support the UK’s world-leading research base and to unlock its full potential”.
The UK’s new research body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will award this funding on the basis of “national excellence”, while there will also be more grant funding for Innovate UK.
The extra spending on research and development is part of a National Productivity Investment Fund worth £23 billion from 2017-18 to 2021-22 designed to boost the UK’s lacklustre economic productivity.
Darpa was seen as successful in the US because many of its military technology projects, the internet being the best know example, were seen to have had positive spill over effects into the wider economy, he said. However, there was a huge cultural difference between the “risk taking culture” of Darpa and the “grant giving culture” of the UK research councils,