Universities are being invited to bid for £85 million of new capital funding for research into three of the “eight Great British technologies” that are expected to drive growth and help secure the UK’s high-tech future.
The money is part of the £600 million earmarked for the science sector in last year's Autumn Statement. It will be divided up between advanced materials (£30 million), energy storage (£30 million) and robotics (£25 million).
“This £85 million capital fund will keep the UK at the forefront of science and innovation,” said David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science.
The investment is intended to build capability in “areas that are vital for the country and where we are already carrying out exciting research”, according to Professor David Delpy, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
“The work will help develop new ways of storing power, new materials that can aid manufacturing and other industries, and further developing how autonomous systems communicate, learn and work with humans,” he said.
Universities can bid for a share of the funding through the EPSRC. In most cases they will be supported by and work in conjunction with industry partners.
Willets outlined the thinking behind his “eight great technologies” in a pamphlet published at the start of this year. The technologiesare: big data, space, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advanced materials and energy.
In a speech at the Policy Exchange in January, Willets admitted that betting on these technologies was a risk: “Some of the technologies for which we have high hopes today will turn out to be clunkers tomorrow.”
However, he said that the government is building on a wide range of expertise to understand why these scientific and technological trends are so important.
Willetts is now pushing for the science budget to remain ringfenced in the current public spending round, as ministers try to find an extra £10 billion of departmental cuts for the election year, 2015-16.