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Discovery Fund – what we know so far

Áine Ryan, International Research Funding Manager writes about the UK Government’s plans for a new “Discovery Fund” to offer sizeable, long-term grants to fund discovery-led, ground breaking research.


Now that the UK has formally left the EU, the UK Government’s official stated position remains that they will seek to secure association to Horizon Europe and other EC funded R&I programmes, ‘if we can agree a fair and balanced deal’. In preparation for the possibility of non-association, and to mitigate the inevitable funding gap in the event of delayed association, the UK Gov has been planning alternative funding arrangements.

Published on 05 November 2019, the so-called ‘Smith Review’ an independent advice paper on the design of future UK funding schemes for international collaboration, innovation and research, included references to a ‘Discovery Fund’ in the terms of reference (page 45):

‘This will include the Discovery Fund, which aims to provide a UK alternative to the curiosity-driven and excellence-focused elements of Horizon Europe.’

The Smith Review made a number of recommendations of how alternative funding streams could be administered, but the recommendations do not specifically reference the phrase ‘Discovery Fund’.

Published on 01 July 2020, the ‘UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap’ included a reference to a new ‘Discovery Fund’ (page 43 of pdf version) in the section ‘Being at the forefront of global collaboration’:

‘If we do not formally associate to Horizon Europe or Euratom R&T, we will implement ambitious alternatives as quickly as possible from January 2021 and address the funding gap. As a first step we will launch an ambitious new Discovery Fund offering sizeable grants over long periods of time to talented early, mid and late-career researchers, whether already in the UK or coming here from anywhere in the world, to pursue discovery-led, ground-breaking research.’

What we know so far

Very little details about the implementation of the Discovery Fund have been made available, but from October 2020 a number of details have begun to emerge. We understand that this lack of information is due to the fact that many details have yet to be finalised by fund administrators (probably UKRI), and many decisions on the implementation have yet to be made.

We are collecting intelligence as it emerges and adding it to a dedicated Discovery Fund SharePoint site (University of Edinburgh staff access only).

Support available from Edinburgh Research Office

As more details about the fund emerge, we will run information events and produce a suite of online resources to assist with proposal development. Should demand management be necessary, we will lead on delivery. A limited Proposal Development service, similar to that currently delivered for ERC and MSCA-IF, will be made available. If interviews will form part of the funder evaluation process, we will organise mock interviews for selected candidates.

More from this author

Áine Ryan


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