EPSRC welcomes Chancellor's boost for science and skills

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The announcement of the first tranche of challenges to be supported by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) and additional support for high skilled research talent has been welcomed by the UK's Research and Innovation leaders.

In the Spring Budget, an initial investment of £270 million in 2017-18 was announced to kick-start the development of disruptive technologies that have the potential to transform the UK economy.

Following engagement with experts in academia and industry, it was announced that the first wave of challenges funded from the ISCF will include the following:

  • leading the world in the development, design and manufacture of batteries that will power the next generation of electric vehicles, helping to tackle air pollution
  • developing cutting-edge artificial intelligence and robotics systems that will operate in extreme and hazardous environments, including off-shore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining
  • accelerating patient access to new drugs and treatments through developing brand new medicine manufacturing technologies, helping to improve public health

The Budget also announced an investment of £250 million over the next four years to continue to build the pipeline of high-skilled research talent necessary for a growing and innovative economy:

  • £90 million will provide an additional 1,000 PhD places in areas aligned with the Industrial Strategy. Around 85% will be in STEM disciplines, and 40% will directly help strengthen collaboration between business and academia through industrial partnerships
  • a further £160 million will support new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers in areas aligned to the Industrial Strategy

EPSRC has supported these areas over recent decades, successfully investing in research, discovery and innovation and securing additional investment from industry partners. It welcomes the Government's recognition of the UK's world-leading position in these fields and their future potential.

Previous EPSRC investments have laid the foundations on which the country can continue to build. For instance, researchers at the University of Bristol have developed autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles to investigate and survey the damaged nuclear plant at Fukushima, Japan.

EPSRC has also invested significant amounts in building the skills base in the area of robotics and autonomous systems, funding a £5.7 million Centre for Doctoral Training at Heriot Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.

Only last month EPSRC announced a programme grant worth a total of £4.65 million for a major robotics research project at the University of Manchester that will develop robotics technologies capable of operating autonomously and effectively within hazardous environments such as nuclear facilities. In addition to EPSRC's support the project also leveraged over £4 million from industry and will be operating in the Sellafield site. The system-wide advances delivered through this industry-academic collaboration will increase reliability, reduce decommissioning costs, build next generation skills and enable a secure supply chain for the industry.

Similarly EPSRC has been driving the development of hybrid fuel cell - battery systems. Intelligent Energy, a spin out company formed by researchers at Loughborough University, developed technology which ended up being adopted by a fleet of zero carbon London taxis used to transport passengers at the London Olympics in 2012.

EPSRC's Future Continuous Manufacturing and Advanced Crystallisation (CMAC) Research Hub is a £10 million investment that works in partnership with industry. They aim to transform current manufacturing processes into the medicine supply chain of the future and revolutionize the way pharmaceuticals are made. The University of Strathclyde leads the activity with support from the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Imperial, Loughborough, Leeds and Sheffield. Partners include GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Lilly, Novartis, Roche and Takeda.

EPSRC's commitment to post-doctoral training is significant, over £506 million, with over one hundred Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) being established, covering subject areas across its portfolio. This has levered in a further £450 million from universities, industry and other charitable partners.

In addition, each year it provides universities with £100 million to support Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) ,that are managed by the universities, and Industrial CASE accounts, where businesses take the lead in arranging projects with an academic lead of their choice.

Professor Philip Nelson, Chair of Research Councils UK and Chief Executive of EPSRC said: The Chancellor's announcements are most welcome. Long-term funding for research and developing high-skilled research talent is vital to the UK's future as a science power allowing us to continue feeding the pipeline that transforms research into products and services. The UK is at the fore in many aspects of these fields, but countries across the globe are putting effort and resource in too, so these investments are strategically significant.

Notes for Editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

Reference: PN 16-17