A new modern Industrial Strategy - investing in science, research and innovation

Posted on 20 February 2017

I want to start by welcoming the Government's commitment to a new modern Industrial Strategy and the opportunity for all of us to contribute to the consultation through the Green Paper (PDF).

But what I welcome even more is the recognition in the Green Paper for the key role that science, research and innovation has to play in an Industrial Strategy, with the first of the Ten Pillars being 'Investing in science, research and innovation'. We can take comfort from the fact that government recognises research and innovation underpin strong economies.

We have been making the case over many years, most recently with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case studies (PDF), that the engineering and physical sciences contribute substantially to UK prosperity - contributing to £64 billion of economic activity, £16 billion of cost savings and creating 400 new businesses that employ over 50,000 people.

We have developed our relationships with industry to ensure that the world-leading research we invest in is taken forward in partnership with business to drive innovation, growth and productivity - collaborating with over 3,550 partners allows us to leverage an additional £1.1 billion against our £4.6Bn portfolio. EPSRC-supported researchers already rise to the research challenges articulated by these partners making a significant contribution to UK prosperity. The Industrial Strategy will allow these researchers to broaden and deepen their engagement with industry through initiatives such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

New ideas and innovations are built on strong foundations of excellent research in fundamental science. The obvious example is the early investment in graphene - starting with a £500,000 grant that later led to the discovery of graphene, the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physics and more recent investments in the Graphene Institute to commercialise the extraordinary properties of this wonder material. We recognise the need to nurture and support the underlying excellence of the research base as a key component of the research ecosystem that will provide one of the Ten Pillars of the Industrial Strategy.

We also know that success is built on connections, not just between academia and industry, but also across disciplines and across regions. Our investments reach right across the UK - funding excellence wherever it exists through over 90 university partners and with 56 per cent of our portfolio identified as multidisciplinary. The experience of working across disciplines means that EPSRC-supported researchers can respond to emerging challenges which will almost certainly span multiple disciplines.

All of the initial themes that have been identified as part of the ISCF build upon many of the research areas within our portfolio with the majority of the challenges requiring leadership from the EPSRC research community. The EPSRC research community and our partners have contributed to the themes through a series of workshops run jointly by Innovate UK and Research Councils through January 2017. These challenges demonstrate the importance of engineering and physical sciences in a modern Industrial Strategy - to take just a few examples:

Robotics and artificial intelligence

We have a current portfolio of around £94M and attract an additional £49 million investment from industry. We can already demonstrate success through outcomes such as the driverless vehicle programme at the University of Oxford and the robotic surgery programme at Imperial College London. Both of these examples are seeing research being taken forward into products and services of benefit to the UK.

Leading edge healthcare and medicine

For an area that EPSRC may not be traditionally well known for we have a portfolio of over £735 million and attract further investment from partners of over £450 million. Again we can demonstrate success through investments such as our Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IRCs) where partnerships across disciplines and with business are enabling the delivery of mobile diagnostics to test and track infectious diseases and sensor technology to monitor patient's health in their own homes. Today's healthcare challenges are many and complex and require the collaborative working of universities and business to solve.

Clean energy and batteries technologies

We have a current portfolio of around £1.1Bn and attract an additional £505 million investment from industry. As the lead for the Energy Programme EPSRC is a major player in this space with key investments including the Supergen programme addressing renewable energy research. EPSRC-supported researchers have enabled the next generation of lithium batteries and taken forward advanced materials for energy generation and storage.

These illustrative examples indicate the research we have already invested in, alongside industry, in these areas and allow us to respond to the new challenges still to be articulated as part of the ISCF. Our community is already familiar with the development of industrial-driven research challenges. Our recent Prosperity Partnership initiative has allowed industry to articulate key research challenges to be tackled in partnership with universities.

The development of the Industrial Strategy is a fantastic opportunity to cement the role of research and innovation as a central contributor to UK prosperity. We have a significant contribution to make across all the current challenges but just as importantly we have a huge role to play in identifying the new challenges that the future success of the UK will be dependent on. Our greatest strength is in our ability to support the people that inspire innovation and discover the new ideas that will solve the problems of the future and I encourage you all to take up this opportunity to respond to the green paper consultation.