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Government launches £60m Regional Innovation Fund

The £60m fund aims to support universities in areas with lower R&D investment, while the government is also pumping £8m towards AI scholarships

Technology secretary Michelle Donelan has launched a £60m Regional Innovation Fund, targeting universities in areas with lower levels of research and development (R&D) funding.

Announcing the fund in her speech at the Tory Party Conference, Donelan said the “cash injection” into universities would “be felt almost immediately” and would help local economies prosper.

“We will back our world-class universities to support local businesses, grow local economies and support opportunities across our country,” she said.

The innovation fund, which in England will be delivered by Research England, is being split relative to the size of each UK nation. In England, it will support 110 universities, which will each get a share of £48.8m.

The rest of the fund will be split between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s devolved administrations, which will get £5.8m, £3.4m and £2m respectively, to support their regional economies to boost growth and increase productivity.

Donelan added that the government was also increasing its overall investment in R&D to £20bn by the end of 2024.

“This is record-breaking funding. We are backing British scientists, backing British businesses and driving investment into all corners of our United Kingdom,” she said.

“This investment will open the door to the opportunities of tomorrow. And British scientists are consistently advancing the frontiers of knowledge, with ground-breaking discoveries that are reshaping our world.”

In her speech, Donelan also promised a further £8m in funding towards artificial intelligence (AI) scholarships, which she said would give “800 more people the opportunity to excel in AI and cementing our place as leading the global conversation on AI safety” and ensure “that the next generation of the world’s AI entrepreneurs are Britain’s best and brightest”.

The government has funded more than 1,800 scholarships in the past three years, as part of the scheme. Students can study a range of master’s courses, which teach practical AI and data science skills, coding, programming, machine learning and AI ethics to prepare them for “jobs of the future”.

Donelan also launched a review into the use of sex and gender questions in scientific research and statistics to ensure researchers and public bodies can gather the information needed to effectively plan key services.

“The review will leave no stone unturned in the effort to protect scientific integrity and let our world-class scientific community accurately get on with their jobs,” she said.

The review comes, Donelan said, as the “slow creep of wokeism” has led to Margaret Thatcher’s scientific legacy being “under attack”.

“We are safeguarding scientific research from the denial of biology and the steady creep of political correctness. We are making a stand before it suffocates British identity and our values entirely,” she said.

“That is why we are depoliticising science, because science is the most extraordinary force for good – from curing disease to growing our food – we’ve got to keep it that way. Science must be based on facts.”

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