What will industrial strategy mean to universities?

‘Part of the funding – it is not yet clear exactly how much – will be channelled through a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which will “support business-led collaborations with coordinated research efforts” and focus on the “challenges, opportunities and technologies that have the potential to transform existing industries and create entirely new ones”.

According to Paul Nightingale, deputy director of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, this suggests a shift in the way the UK commercialises its research. Rather than funding basic science and hoping the resultant discoveries will be turned into new products and technologies – a “failed model”, says Nightingale – the new strategy will instead ask industry for its “intractable” problems and call on academic scientists to help out. It is a vision of “questions from industry driving research”, he explains.

This “challenge” model of innovation is far from new, and is explicitly modelled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the US (a recent Darpa challenge, for example, asked researchers to build robots that could drive cars, climb ladders and fix leaking pipes).

But it is the first time the UK will have put serious money behind it, says Andy Westwood, an expert in politics and policy based at the universities of Wolverhampton and Manchester. “Whether it overturns the existing model is an interesting question,” he says.

Although the strategy calls for further suggestions, it already has firm ideas on where the new money could be spent: clean energy and storage; robotics and artificial intelligence; satellite and space technologies; healthcare and medicine; manufacturing processes and “materials of the future”; bioscience and biotechnology; quantum technologies; and digital technology such as supercomputing and 5G mobile networks.’ – Times Higher Education


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