Sophie Lowry, Strategic Research Executive in Edinburgh Reserach Office, highlights what we know so far about the UK’s proposed new research funding agency, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, previously known as UK ARPA.
It was the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 in which we first heard mention of a new research funding agency – one that would fund “high-risk, high-payoff research in emerging fields of research and technology”. Then several months later in the March 2020 UK Government Budget we were told that the Government would “invest at least £800 million” in this “blue skies” funding agency. April 2020 saw the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee launch an inquiry into the nature and purpose of this new agency and in September 2020 we were given some idea of a timeline for its creation, with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s annual report suggesting that the new agency was due to open in 2021. This looked a bit more realistic when the November Spending Review included an initial £50m of the expected £800m five-year budget for this agency. However, just in the last few weeks (on 19 February 2021), the UK Government announced its intention to table primary legislation to establish the new agency, called the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), as a new quango with an expected launch date in 2022.
What does this mean for the existing research and development landscape?
There are still a lot of unknowns. The Science and Technology Committee’s has published its inquiry report on the new agency and makes a detailed attempt at answering this question, looking in particular at whether there is a need for a new UK research funding agency, what its form, function and place in the system might look like and also suggests learning opportunities for the UK research and innovation system. It also offers recommendations to the UK Government, some of which seem to have been overlooked in its announcement about the agency’s establishment.
There are still questions surrounding the exact purpose of the new agency. There is uncertainty about how it will fit into, and perhaps more importantly, complement, the existing landscape and mechanisms for research and development funding. There doesn’t seem to be any confirmation yet that the agency will be offering mission or challenge-led funding as suggested by many. We have been told it will allow for easier access to funding, less red tape, but no further details on how exactly this will be achieved. As one policy lead at NCUB suggests, “the devil will be in the detail”.
ERO Briefing House of Commons Science & Technology Committee Report: A new UK research funding agency (UoE access only)