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Science Minister Chris Skidmore at Eureka 2019 in Manchester

UK seeking new R&D partners beyond EU post-Brexit

Image credit: Innovate UK

The UK is looking for research collaborations in other continents beyond Europe as part of the government’s new International Research and Innovation Strategy, launched by Science Minister Chris Skidmore at the Global Innovation Summit in Manchester.

Skidmore’s announcement was delivered against a background of intensive negotiations by the UK with its European partner countries to stay as involved in collaborative research programmes as it can after Brexit, including associate membership of the major Horizon Europe research programme.

“When it comes to Brexit, I’m really keen to make sure that I can maintain, where it’s possible, the opportunity of the status quo,” he said. This includes Horizon Europe, although “we still don’t know what the association regulations will look like,” he admitted.

“I want to maintain the European research partnerships,” Skidmore said, "but it’s made us realise the value of the partnerships that we’ve got to try and separate from the politics. We need to try and make sure that we put these on a stable footing.

“We must not allow Brexit to undermine or compromise our existing relationships. We should now be able to take a fresh look and that’s why we published the IRIS [International Research and Innovation Strategy] today to have that fresh look and put us on an international footing.”

Important partner countries for bilateral research in the future include China, South Korea and the US, he said, as well as Germany, the Netherlands and France.

E&T put it to the minister that it appeared the government was seeking wider international collaboration as a backup for European collaborative research. “No, it’s very much a hub-and-spoke approach,” he said. “What I see is, within the hub it’s obviously the European partnerships around Horizon Europe, because that’s a significant investment and it would be a large fund [but] it’s not an either/or scenario. It is a situation to strategically prioritise our commitment to maintaining European research links, but also to look beyond it.”

The government’s Industrial Strategy sets a target of spending 2.4 per cent of GDP on R&D projects by 2027. In 2017, the UK spent 1.7 per cent of GDP on R&D.

“The UK must raise its investment if we are to maintain our commitment to the future,” said Skidmore. “Indeed, if we do not, we risk falling behind other nations in the development of emerging technologies. The US, China, France, Germany and others have already set out their own ambitious strategies for maintaining global influence in innovation.”

He said the commitment to spend 2.4 per cent will remain even without UK associate membership of Horizon Europe. The UK was getting £5.7bn in research money from Horizon 2020 but only putting in £4bn so, he acknowledged, there is a £1.7bn deficit to start with and “it is not about simply replacing the £4bn the UK put in”.

Skidmore also announced a £4m funding competition for UK participation in joint collaborative projects in the Eureka research programme, all of them in areas of engineering or technology development. The £4m will be split between these competitions: £2m for smart manufacturing; £1m for artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and £1m for medical technology, smart mobility and logistics and advanced manufacturing. Some projects aim to get innovations to market quicker and others are to boost networking amongst innovators and businesses.

“In future, our businesses won’t just be entering new markets, they’ll be making them,” said Skidmore. “We are living through enormous technological, social and environmental change.

“Science and innovation have no borders and this new strategy reflects our aspirations to see the UK draw systemically on research and innovation collaboration to build its economic growth while tackling global challenges. We’ve already backed this ambition by committing £7bn over five years by 2022.”

The Eureka Global Innovation Summit is the flagship event of this year’s UK chairmanship of Eureka, hosted by Innovate UK, expecting around 1,700 business people and innovators from 65 countries to attend.


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