Prizes and catapults: government unveils innovation and research strategy

The government will fund more inducement prizes to solve interdisciplinary challenges as part of its new innovation and research strategy.

December 8, 2011

The strategy, published on Thursday, says the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts will invest £250,000 a year in the prizes, to be overseen by a dedicated “centre of expertise” to be established within NESTA.

The headline measures in the strategy are aimed at boosting research and development in small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs). These include an extra £75 million to help the Technology Strategy Board support them.

Among the announcements that will affect the academy directly is a £2m research council investment in “Gateway to Research” that will “allow ready access the research council-funded research information and related data”.

It will also be able to include research funded by others “in due course”

Information will be presented in a “readily reusable form, using common formats and open standards.”

The government is also inviting the academy and industry to match its investment of up to £10 million over five years to an “open data institute”. The institute’s remit will be to ensure government moves on open access to research, being coordinated by a committee chaired by Dame Janet Finch, is “transformed into commercial advantage”. It will work with companies and universities to “increase the number of trained personnel with extensive open data skills” such as text-mining.

Meanwhile, grant application mechanisms will be altered to make it easier for consortia such as the N8 group of northern research universities to make applications. The report says consortia, including with business and international institutions, can “tackle large-scale and ground-breaking new research beyond the capabilities of a single institution”.

A new “innovation voucher” scheme will be launched to support small businesses that want support from universities.

Technology and Innovation Centres, which aim to bridge the gap between business and the academy in specific technology areas will be renamed Catapult Centres. A centre in high value manufacturing has already opened, with centres in cell therapy and offshore renewable energy to follow next year. The other three centres in the £200 million programme will be announced early next year.

The report also calls on business to sponsor more students and offer them relevant work placements.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the strategy came at the end of what had been a “good year for science and research in the UK”, with nearly £500 million in new capital spending announced since the budget.

“We know there is more to do but we have accomplished a lot this ear and I look forward to doing more next year,” he added.

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