New £60 million Regional Innovation Fund among measures to boost research and development

A £60 million Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) that will boost support for universities in areas with lower levels of R&D investment is among new measures Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan has announced

  • Over 110 universities to benefit from pilot Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) to grow local economies
  • review announced to ensure high-quality data on sex and gender informs research and policy
  • extra £8 million towards more artificial intelligence scholarships to help UK sector further excel
  • two consultations launched to boost broadband for 100,000 most remote premises

A £60 million Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) that will boost support for universities in areas with lower levels of research and development investment is among new measures to support the research sector and wider public, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan has announced.

The Secretary of State unveiled the scheme alongside the launch of an independent review into sex and gender data gathering and, separately, a commitment of a further £8 million towards artificial intelligence (AI) scholarships that will give 800 more people the opportunity to excel in the sector.

It followed the launch yesterday (2 October) of two consultations that aim to improve broadband connections for 100,000 of the most remote premises and review the existing broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The RIF – relative to the size of each UK nation – will see £48.8 million go towards 110 universities across England and will be delivered by Research England.

A further £5.8 million for Scotland, £3.4 million for Wales and £2 million for Northern Ireland will be allocated to devolved administrations to support local and regional economies, in turn boosting growth and increasing productivity.

Separately, a review into sex and gender data will be launched to ensure researchers and public bodies can gather the information they need to effectively plan key services. As a funder of research and producer and user of statistics, the government relies on accurate information to inform research and effective policymaking in a wide range of fields, from health to crime, to education to the economy.

The review, supported by the Cabinet Office and Economic and Social Research Council, a part of UK Research and Innovation, will be led by Professor Alice Sullivan of University College London. Its terms of reference will be agreed in the coming weeks and is expected to conclude by spring of next year.

Meanwhile £8 million will go towards a further 800 scholarships on the study of AI, building on the more than 1,800 scholarships delivered in the last three years from £18 million of government funding. 

Eligible students can study a range of master’s courses across England which teach practical AI and data science skills, coding, programming, machine learning, health data science and AI ethics – preparing them for jobs of the future and boosting Britain’s ambition to become a world leader in AI safety.

Yesterday, the government also launched two consultations to drive forward delivery of gigabit-capable network access across the UK – building on our goal of 85% coverage by 2025, aiming for nearly 100% by 2030. The consultations opened on Monday 2 October and will close on Monday 27 November.

This includes reviewing and updating the broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) which gives homeowners and businesses the legal right to request an affordable, decent broadband connection. Our consultation will seek early industry and stakeholder input into how connectivity can be further strengthened.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) is also reviewing the department’s approach to connecting Very Hard to Reach premises (VHTR) – including rural areas that are unable to access an ultrafast broadband connection – across the UK. This will establish the case for government support and intervention, why VHTR places require a different approach to Project Gigabit and how the policy interacts with the broadband USO.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP