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The Strategic Priorities Fund

The Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) is one of the UK’s largest, publicly funded, programmes of work to spearhead multi and inter disciplinary research and innovation.

What is the Strategic Priorities Fund?

Established in 2018 and led by UKRI, the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) aims to:

  • drive an increase in high quality multi and interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research and innovation priorities and opportunities
  • and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities.

SPF builds on Sir Paul Nurse’s vision of a ‘common fund’, to support high quality multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research programmes, which could have otherwise been missed through traditional funding channels.

It is funded through the government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

The SPF portfolio consists of 34 programmes with a combined total investment of around £830million.

How were SPF programmes developed and selected?

SPF programmes were developed and selected through two waves of funding.

All UKRI’s councils along with six BEIS-funded bodies* were eligible to develop proposals for programmes in any area which would address one or more of the three aims listed above.

The fund provided an ideal opportunity for organisations to work together, developing shared bids on specific research and innovation areas, with input from across the research and innovation community and government.

The diverse perspectives, expertise and experiences of UKRI’s councils and eligible BEIS-funded bodies provided an in-built strength to enable joint programmes to combine exploratory alongside directed research and innovation.

SPF programmes were selected through a competitive process. Assessment panels recommended programme selection and funding allocation.

15 programmes were selected in Wave 1.

19 programmes were selected in Wave 2.

In total 83% of the SPF programmes across both Wave 1 and 2 are collaborative multi -and interdisciplinary research programmes involving two or more delivery organisations.

Organisations involved in SPF programme development included:

*Medical Research Council (MRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Biotechnical and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) , Innovate UK (IUK) , Research England (RE) , Government Office for Science (GO-Science), Met Office, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), National Physical Laboratory (NPL), UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), and UK Space Agency (UKSA)

SPF Assessment Panels

The below panels were held to assess and select the SPF programmes for Wave 1 and Wave 2.

Wave 1 (June 2018)

  • Prof Sir Mark Walport, UKRI CEO – Chair 
  • Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor
  • Prof Julia Black CBE, UKRI Board 
  • Prof Sir Ian Diamond, UKRI Board 
  • Prof Sir Jim McDonald, University of Strathclyde (and National Physical Laboratory (NPL) Board)
  • Ian Kenyon – UKRI CFO
  • Rebecca Endean CBE, UKRI Strategy Director 
  • Dr Sharon Ellis, Director of International Science and Innovation at BEIS

Wave 2 (January 2019)

  • Prof Sir Mark Walport, UKRI CEO – Chair 
  • Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor
  • Prof Julia Black CBE, UKRI Board 
  • Prof Sir Ian Diamond, UKRI Board 
  • Prof Sir Jim McDonald, University of Strathclyde (and National Physical Laboratory (NPL) Board)
  • Dr Karen Salt, University of Nottingham 
  • Prof Dame Angela Mclean, University of Oxford 
  • Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Royal Academy of Engineering 
  • Rebecca Endean CBE, UKRI Strategy Director 
  • Jenny Dibden, Director Science, Research and Innovation at BEIS

How can I get involved?

Wave 1 and Wave 2 SPF programmes are now underway.

There are 34 programmes across the portfolio, all in different stages of their lifecycles. Some have just begun, with work underway to grow a portfolio of calls as the programme matures, some are closer to delivery on their objectives.

Click here for details of research and innovation calls open now.

Get in touch directly with the lead UKRI or BEIS-funded body listed below to understand more about funding opportunities under a specific SPF programme.

Eligibility

Organisations eligible to apply to the programmes include Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), Research Institutes (RI) and Independent Research Organisations (IROs) accredited by the UKRI Research Councils. A list of Research Institutes and IROs eligible to apply to UKRI is provided here: https://www.ukri.org/funding/how-to-apply/eligibility/

SPF research and innovation calls are also open to an expanded list of Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs). Providing this opportunity to eligible PSREs addresses the Nurse Review’s principle of ‘investing in excellence, wherever it is found’

Application process for PSRE Eligibility Status

There is no agreed definition or a definitive list of PSREs that are eligible to apply to the SPF, so UKRI have developed the initial list of PSREs that could potentially be eligible to bid for Research Council grants through this fund. This list is not exhaustive, and only highlights the potential for eligibility. A list of PSREs which have already successfully received eligibility status can be found at: https://www.ukri.org/funding/how-to-apply/eligibility/

To guarantee eligibility for SPF funding delivered by UKRI, PSREs will need to complete the appropriate eligibility form to evidence they have the capacity and capability required by UKRI. PSREs should endeavour to complete the application form at their earliest opportunity to ensure all eligibility checks are complete before applying to an SPF Programme’s research calls. Delays in the checks could prevent a PSRE from applying for a call or their application being rejected.

If PSREs wishing to apply do not currently hold IRO or PSRE status with UKRI, they will be required to:

SPF Programmes

Programmes have been announced in themes, however, as interdisciplinary work is a lynchpin feature of the SPF, we encourage all members of the research and innovation community to explore all the opportunities to determine for themselves the relevance of their specific interests to each programme.

Click here for those with research and innovation calls open now.

Wave 1

Theme

SPF Wave 1 Programme

Environment

Clean Air: Analysis and Solutions  This programme supports multidisciplinary research and innovation to stimulate solutions for clean air through predictive understanding of future air quality challenges, a systems approach to analysis, new technologies and innovative policy and practice interventions to benefit vulnerable groups, improve public health and support clean growth.

This UKRI programme is a £19.6 million collaboration delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Met Office, with Innovate UK (IUK), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC),National Physical Laboratory (NPL), in partnership with the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Department for Transport (DfT).

UK Climate Resilience: Harnessing multidisciplinary expertise to deliver robust climate risk and solutions research, which ensures the UK is resilient to climate variability and change, and powerfully positioned to exploit the opportunities of adaptation and green growth.

This UKRI programme is a £18.7 million collaboration, delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Met Office, with the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), with governments’ Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Constructing a Digital Environment: Applying the latest technologies to environmental data from sensor networks across the UK to deliver information in unprecedented detail.

This UKRI programme is a £10.4million collaboration, delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (ESRC) and the governments’ Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Landscape Decisions:  Bringing together researchers with policy, business and land management partners to develop an interdisciplinary decision-making framework that will help deliver better, evidence-based decisions on land use in the UK.

This UKRI programme is a £10.5 million collaboration, delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), the Biotechnology & Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), with policy support from Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

Biology and biomedicine

Physics of Life:  This research will bring together integrated programmes of multidisciplinary research to transform our understanding of the physics of biological function in health and disease, providing new insight into key challenges.

This UKRI programme is a £31.2 million collaboration, delivered by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with Biotechnology & Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

EMBL-EBI  data resources for the life sciences: This programme will enable the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) to meet the growing demand for open access biological datasets, boosting the UK’s genomics sector and driving major advances in areas such as biotechnology, medicine and agriculture by improving understanding of how genetics affect the health of humans, plants and animals.

This UKRI programme is a £45million collaboration delivered by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Bacterial Plant Diseases:  Research to counter diseases that threaten crop production, forestry, commercial and amenity horticulture, woodlands and wider biodiversity with severe economic, environmental and social impacts. 

This UKRI programme is a £17.7million collaboration, delivered by Biotechnology & Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Scottish Government.

Human Cell Atlas:  Harnessing the UK’s unique developmental biology capabilities, this programme supports the UK’s role as a key partner in the ambitious global Human Cell Atlas initiative.

This £6.7 million UKRI programme is delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the awards have been made with support from the charity the British Heart Foundation.

Artificial Intelligence

Living with Machines:  Data scientists, historians, computational linguists, geographers, and archivists will collaborate to better understand the social and cultural impact of the mechanisation of work during the first industrial revolution- a move that changed our world and the way that we live forever. 

This £9.2million UKRI programme is delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), with The Alan Turing Institute, the British Library and the Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia, Exeter and Queen Mary University of London.

AI and Data Science for Science, Engineering, Health, and Government:   A major integrated research programme with a goal to deploy AI and data science in priority areas to support the UK economy, transforming engineering and urban planning, health, physical and life sciences and criminal justice.

This £38.8 million UKRI programme is delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in partnership with The Alan Turing Institute, and in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It includes policy support from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Ensuring the Security of Digital Technologies at the PeripheryThis programme aims to ensure that Internet of Things systems are safe and secure, particularly as more critical applications emerge meaning there is increased vulnerability to broader, more sophisticated cyber-threats.

This UKRI programme is a £30 million collaboration, delivered by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with Innovate UK (IUK) and with policy support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office.

Productivity

UK Populations Lab: Funding for the development of proposed new approaches to cohort studies, including preparation for the creation of a new administrative data spine for new and existing longitudinal studies, and the scoping of a new birth cohort.

This UKRI programme is a £2.1 million collaboration, delivered by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).  It includes policy support from Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Transforming Productivity Research:  This programme will help to develop a greater understanding of the range of factors that drive productivity growth and explore how we might capitalise on these factors to increase productivity, specifically a targeted initiative investigating Management Practices and Employee Engagement.

This £8.9 million UKRI programme is led by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and was designed with the Medical Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It includes policy support from Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Analysis for Innovators Scale Up: This programme addresses the UK Productivity Gap by providing individual UK companies with the means to solve measurement and analysis problems within their existing products, services and processes.

This UKRI programme is a £14.1 million collaboration between Innovate UK (IUK), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the National Physics laboratory (NPL). It will be delivered through business-led collaborations including 30-50% matched funding.

Infrastructure

Extreme Photonics Applications Centre: (EPAC) This will be a national facility asset for the UK delivered and operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to support a multi-disciplinary, cross-departmental community of users.  Building on decades of R&D in laser-driven particle acceleration at STFC’s Central Laser Facility (CLF), EPAC will bring together academic, industrial, defence and security communities in a diverse programme of fundamental and applied research, industrial metrology and qualification, materials processing, and advanced imaging. EPAC will combine unique capabilities, broad communities and novel applications, generating a high return on investment and establishing UK leadership in a highly strategic area of technology.

Led by STFC this £81million programme is funded through UKRI, with additional investment from the Ministry of Defence.  The facility at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus is expected to be operational by 2024.

Wave 2

Theme

SPF Wave 2 Programme

Environment

Greenhouse Gas Removal Demonstrators: This programme will assess sustainable routes for large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

This UKRI programme is a £31.52 million collaboration, delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Innovate UK (IUK),  the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Clean Air: Indoor/Outdoor Interface This programme aims to build on the first wave of Clean Air investment, to equip the UK to tackle proactively new air quality challenges, related to changing emissions and exposure patterns, in order to protect human health and support clean growth.

This UKRI programme is a £22 million collaboration, delivered  by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Met Office, with Innovate UK (IUK), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Science and Technology Facilitates Council (STFC), National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in partnership with the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Department for Transport (DfT), the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.

Transforming the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment This interdisciplinary programme of research will help to transform the UK food system by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre. It will address questions around what we should eat, produce and manufacture in the UK and what we should import. It will consider the complex interactions between health, environment, social and economic factors, while taking into account wider needs for different groups in society. This will enable a joined-up approach across healthy and accessible diets and sustainable food production and supply, delivering coherent evidence to enable concerted action from government, business and civil society.

This UKRI programme is a £47.5 million collaboration, led by the Global Food Security (GFS) programme, and delivered by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Public Health England (PHE) and Innovate UK.

National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research ProgrammeThis programme will drive forward new research to support opportunities to increase sustainability, improve resource efficiency and reduce waste across materials, products and services within sectors such as food, transport, textiles and electronics.

This UKRI programme is a £30 million collaboration, delivered by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)  

Sustainable Management of Marine Resources:  The Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources programme aims to improve understanding of societal perspectives and behaviours concerning the marine environment and integrate this into systems-based approaches that support the development and analysis of interventions and inform effective decision-making for marine management and policy development.

This UKRI programme is a £12.4 million collaboration, delivered by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Scottish Government.

Health, Wellbeing and Human Rights

Policy and Evidence Centre for Modern Slavery and Human Rights: 

This research programme will support a Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) to provide independent, impartial and authoritative insight and analysis of practical use to Government, Parliament, business, NGOs, and international organisations. It will undertake policy-focussed research, respond to strategic challenges, advance understanding and stimulate innovative and effective solutions to modern slavery.

This UKRI programme is a £10million collaboration, delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Home OfficeThe Centre will be based at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, and a partnership of centres of excellence in modern slavery research.

Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator: ‘NATA’:  This programme aims to enable the development of new therapies and technologies directly targeting genetic mutations, which could be rolled out to treat numerous diseases.

This UKRI programme is a £30million collaboration, delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Harwell Research Campus and supported by the government Office for Life Sciences (OLS).

The Advanced Pain Discovery Platform: Mapping the complexity of chronic painDeepening our understanding of pain, this programme will reveal new treatment approaches and address a wide spectrum of chronic and debilitating conditions including arthritis.

This programme is a collaboration delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC) with the charity Versus Arthritis, (who have matched the £12million UKRI investment to boost the programme to £24million in total), Biotechnology & Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

UK Centre of Evidence Implementation in Adult Social Care:  This Centre will lead the way for better use of research evidence in adult social care. Recognising the synergy between good evidence and good practice, the Centre will support those working in adult social care to implement innovations and improvements to provide high quality care.

This programme is a collaboration delivered by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) with the charity The Health Foundation (who have matched the £7.5million UKRI investment to boost the Programme to £15million in total). 

Tackling Multimorbidity at scaleThis multidisciplinary research into multimorbidity – when a person is suffering two or more long-term health conditions – will help us understand broad determinants and underpinning mechanisms of disease co-occurrence to propel forward drug development, allow for earlier diagnosis and prevention of progression to more severe illness and disability.

This UKRI programme is a £20million collaboration, delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC), in collaboration with Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Engineering and Physical Research Science Council (EPSRC), and is jointly funded by the government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) through the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).

Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind: This multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral programme aims to better understand the developing adolescent mind and the genetic, physiological, social and cultural factors that shape it, and how they interact to influence, both positively and negatively, lifelong mental health, educational attainment, identity, social relationships and behaviour.

This UKRI programme is a £35 million collaboration, delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC), with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Digital

Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World: This programme will take the first steps towards creating a unified virtual ‘national collection’. Involving collaborations between UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Independent Research Organisations (IROs) which include some of the world’s most celebrated galleries, libraries, archives and museums.

A £19 million UKRI programme delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and supported by the government’s Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and AHRC’s Independent Research Organisations (IROs)

Protecting Citizens Online: This programme will establish a critical mass of interdisciplinary research activity, focused around privacy enhancing and preserving technologies. It will tackle some of the dangers of the online world from privacy abuses and wrongful use of data like disinformation and online fraud.

This UKRI programme is a £18.2 million collaboration led by EPSRC in partnership with ESRC, AHRC, and association with Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Home Office (HO) and National Security.

Productivity & Technical

Space Weather, Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk: Space Weather (SW) can be defined as solar eruptions that can disrupt modern technologies and damage human health. There are still major gaps in SW risk assessment and our ability to forecast, which leaves the UK vulnerable. Our goal is to enhance the strategic UK approach to Space Weather, transitioning research into operations, according to user needs.   

This UKRI programme is a £20 million collaboration, delivered by the Science and Technology Facilitates Council (STFC), with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Met Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport.

Productivity Institute This programme will support the creation of an ambitious, strategically driven, world class institute to provide a systematic understanding of what is required to solve the UK’s productivity challenges. Thematic research programmes will follow the development by the institute of a comprehensive agenda for productivity research.  The location of the Institute and any partners will be announced following a competitive process.

This UKRI programme is a £42.2 million collaboration, delivered by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). with Innovate UK (IUK), the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Trustworthy Autonomous Systems: This programme will convene key stakeholder groups to drive forward fundamental research into the design, development, curation, verification and validation of autonomous systems. This will help to enable trust and to ensure that systems are developed to be safe, reliable, resilient, ethical and ultimately deployable.

This £34 million UKRI programme is delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Innovate UK and UK Space Agency.

Harnessing Exascale Computing (EXCALIBUR):  ExCALIBUR will design cutting-edge algorithms and software for the efficient solution of scientific problems on future generation supercomputers.  A multidisciplinary cohort of research software engineers and scientists will work together to future-proof the UK against the fast-moving changes in supercomputer designs.  

This UKRI programme is a £ 47.5 million collaboration between the Met Office and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The National Timing Centre: This programme will develop a secure infrastructure of time distribution at locations across the country. It will enable the UK to become one of the first countries in the world to develop a resilient time and frequency distribution network that does not rely on satellites for a reliable time source whilst supporting UK companies to innovate and develop the skills needed in this field.

This is a £36 million programme supported by BEIS and other government departments delivered by the National Physical Laboratory in collaboration with Innovate UK and other government partners.

Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics: Building on the investments of the National Quantum Technology Programme, this programme aims to demonstrate how the application of quantum technologies will advance the understanding of fundamental physics questions.

This UKRI programme is a £40 million collaboration between the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).