Advanced Research & Invention Agency to launch in UK

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The UK government has announced the launch of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA), a research body aiming to fund ‘transformational’ science.

Advanced Research & Invention Agency
Image: Michal Jarmoluk, Pixabay

ARIA will be independently led by top UK scientists and backed by £800m of government funding, as set out by chancellor Rishi Sunak in the March 2020 budget. The plans were revealed today (19 February) by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, as part of government plans to ‘cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower’.

Tasked with funding ambitious, high-risk research, the Advanced Research & Innovation Agency aims to support discoveries that could prove transformational to people’s lives, creating highly-skilled jobs across the country in the process. This will be achieved with flexibility and speed by looking at how to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and experimenting with different funding models, the government said.

Models that have proved successful in other countries, such as the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and its successor DARPA, have inspired the creation of ARIA. Funding models explored will include program grants, seed grants, and prize incentives.

Business secretary Kwarteng said: “From the steam engine to the latest artificial intelligence technologies, the UK is steeped in scientific discovery. Today’s set of challenges - whether disease outbreaks or climate change - needs bold, ambitious and innovative solutions.”

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Science and Innovation minister Amanda Solloway added that to “rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to equip our R&D community with a new scientific engine – one that embraces the idea that truly great successes come from taking great leaps into the unknown.”

Legislation to create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency will be introduced to Parliament as soon as parliamentary time allows, and the aim is for it to be fully operational by 2022, the government revealed in its statement.

Tony McBride, director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Institute of Physics (IOP) described ARIA as an important step toward achieving the 2.4 per cent R&D target.

“We believe that a clear mission will be essential to the successful operation of ARIA, whilst still remaining agile, flexible and free from bureaucracy" he commented. "One of the elements underpinning DARPA’s success in the US is the bringing together of experts from academia, industry and government to solve clearly defined problems. 

“As a nation, we must understand where the greatest technological opportunities lie and make strategic decisions about the areas and challenges we want to prioritise and lead the world in.”

MP and chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Greg Clark, welcomed the government’s commitment to funding high-risk projects but expressed concern at the lack of clarity around the idea. “It’s not clear if it is a new institution that will conduct its own research and attract global scientific talent, or if it is another funding agency for researchers in existing organisations,” Clark said.

“I am concerned that ARIA lacks a clear focus or purpose, and risks becoming rudderless without the direction our report called for. I now urge the government to press ahead appointing a director who will establish a culture which will embolden and empower the brilliant scientists who should be ARIA’s employees.”