January 2019 saw the long-anticipated formal announcement of the Fund for International Collaboration, the seemingly elusive £110 million fund which was first mentioned in the UK Government's 2017 Industrial Strategy white paper.
The announcement has been a long time coming. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief coming from Swindon where UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) colleagues have been limited in what they could say pending the formal announcement.
A lot of information about this new Fund has been alluded to over the past nine months, so here's an overview of what we've learnt so far, and an indication of what we can expect to see over 2019.
A different kind of international fund
The Fund for International Collaboration, or the FIC to call it by its nickname, has been designed to "support the UK to strengthen existing and form new bilateral and multilateral partnerships for research and innovation with leading nations with a reputation for excellence".
Its intention it to complement, rather than replicate, existing government official development assistance (ODA) research programmes such as the Newton Fund and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and will enable UKRI to flexibly develop new programmes of research with countries identified as key priorities.
As the Fund is not drawn from the UK's ODA budget, it will likely be less complex than Newton and GCRF and will structurally more closely resemble other UKRI programmes such as the Strategic Priorities Fund.
So far, FIC priority countries include Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, China, USA, Ireland, South Korea and Singapore, though the number may well increase over the lifetime of the Fund, as and when new priorities emerge.
A multi-million-pound commitment
The commitment to FIC over the current spending review period is £110 million, spread over three funding years, 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21.
Yes, that's right: the clock started ticking back in April 2018. So, although the Fund was only recently officially launched by Chris Skidmore, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, it has in effect been covertly operating for some months in order to spend this financial year's allocation.
Although the calls have been advertised widely through UKRI's usual channels and on UUKi's Gateway to International Opportunities funding web page, they haven't been FIC-branded. So, if you think you've missed the FIC boat, you haven't; in fact, you may even have got on board without realising it...
Shortly after the announcement of the FIC, UKRI shared details of how the first tranche of funding from it will be divided between the research councils and Innovate UK.
The projects listed here are in effect, a welcome 'heads up' on the themes and partnerships that will be the focus of future FIC calls. However, be aware that it does give some context to calls that have already opened and closed, such as the joint UKRI-Japan Society for the Promotion of Science call we saw back in June 2018.
The UKRI FIC team are currently developing a new web page dedicated to the FIC.
This will be a useful way to keep up to date as the Fund develops, especially important given that the allocation of the second tranche of FIC funding within UKRI will be known soon. It may have been a slightly unorthodox start to a new Fund, but the best is yet to come.
This blog is based on a longer article written for Funding Insight.
Rachael Sara-Kennedy is Head of Strategic Partnerships at UUKi and manages UUKi's International Research Development Network. She tweets as @Rachael_SK