Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
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Establishing the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) and its key future priorities

Morning, Tuesday, 20th July 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference follows the recent announcement of the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) in the UK.

Drawing on the DARPA in the United States, it will aim to streamline research and development and support high-risk innovation.

With the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill currently being debated in Parliament, the conference will be an opportunity to discuss key issues around the creation of the new agency.

We are pleased to be able to include a keynote session on progress with Sarah Hodgetts, Deputy Director for Science, Research and Innovation, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; as well ask keynote contributions from Anne Sofield, Programme Director, Simpler and Better Funding, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI); and Dr Alan Bernstein, President & CEO, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

The conference will also be an opportunity to discuss the wider landscape for research and development in the UK following the publication of the Government’s R&D Roadmap, and how this dovetails with recent developments in the UK’s ambitions to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The agenda will also bring out latest thinking on:

  • key focus areas for research
  • allocating research funding under ARIA, oversight and providing value for money, and freedom of information and public scrutiny
  • developing the institutional research culture in ARIA and supporting high ambition
  • ARIA’s role in the wider R&D system

The conference will be an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who are due to attend from BEIS; the Government Office for Science; HMRC; HM Treasury; the ICO; the IPO; and the Welsh Government.

The agenda:

  • Progress so far with developing ARIA and the outlook for its launch
  • Priorities for reducing bureaucracy in applications for research and innovation funding
  • The funding model - speeding up bidding for research funding, freedom of information and oversight, public engagement, and providing value for money
  • Developing an institutional culture that supports blue skies research - cutting excess administration, embracing the possibility of failure, deepening collaborative practices, and harnessing open science
  • Positioning ARIA in the broader R&D system - forging connections with established institutions and industry, sharing knowledge and expertise, and implications for the functioning of the system as a whole
  • Focus areas for research in high-risk innovation and how the benefits should be spread
    • Supporting the net-zero transition and tackling climate change
    • ARIA’s potential contribution to UK defence preparedness
  • Learning from international practice in supporting risk-taking in research

Relevant developments:

  • Advanced Research and Invention Agency: policy statement - the BEIS announcing ARIA:
    • based on the US DARPA and backed by £800m in funding, designed to accelerate high-risk, high-reward and potentially transformative research
    • within a framework of flexibility and reduced bureaucracy, as well as an expected exemption from freedom of information requests
  • debate over Freedom of Information exemption - calls from current and former parliamentarians and campaign groups for government to make the Agency subject to the Freedom of Information Act, to guard public accountability of the use of taxpayer money for high-risk research
  • MOD Science and Technology Strategy 2020 - focusing on funding emerging generation-after-next technologies, addressing the five capability challenges, and supporting the Future Force concept
  • Reducing red tape for UK researchers - the independent review commissioned by the Government with UKRI into the administrative demands of research in the UK, led by Professor Adam Tickell
    • aiming to propose practical solutions for reducing bureaucracy and streamlining research, expected to conclude in early 2022
  • Spending Review 2020 - including the announcement of nearly £15bn of investment in R&D through 2021-22:
    • aimed at allowing researchers to drive innovation and technological change while supporting collaboration with global partners
    • including a £350m allocation for UKRI and £6.6bn for defence research
  • EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement - setting out the UK’s continued participation in Horizon Europe and other European research programmes
  • Future Fund: Breakthrough - the £375m scheme, announced in the Budget
    • designed to encourage private investors to co-invest in UK based R&D and innovation firms
    • with the aim of providing the capital necessary to accelerate the development of breakthrough technologies
  • Global Britain in a Competitive Age - the Integrated Review recently published by the Cabinet Office:
    • outlining the governmental vision for UK's international policy and national interests in the international landscape
    • aims to continue to strengthen national security and resilience, utilising scientific expertise for gaining a strategic advantage
  • UK Research and Development Roadmap - outlining the Government’s long-term plans for the UK’s R&D output, including:
    • the commitment to supporting transformative research through ‘moonshot’ ambitions
    • providing long-term rewards
    • a commitment for public investment in R&D to be increased to £22bn by 2024-25
  • the Sixth Carbon Budget - following recommendations from the independent Climate Change Committee, with:
    • a new target for cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 is to be set in law, including shipping emissions and international aviation for the first time
    • commitments for the UK to reach the fastest fall in carbon emissions of any major economy between 1990-2035
  • Hancock: transforming the UK into a life sciences superpower - the recent DHSC announcement of £37m of investment in genomics projects and initiatives to use health data for life science research, with aims to make the UK the world’s most advanced clinical research environment

Key areas for discussion:

Setting up and launching ARIA:

  • current outlook - looking at challenges regarding the launch and practicalities of creating ARIA, as well as its initial priorities and a breakdown of current progress 
  • keynote contribution - from Sarah Hodgetts, Deputy Director for Science, Research and Innovation, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The funding model:

  • bidding - assessing strategic and tactical options for reducing the complexity of funding processes, and streamlining the delivery of funding to research projects
  • freedom of information - views on the proposal for ARIA to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, including:
    • what it would mean for capacity to streamline research
    • issues for transparency, scrutiny and accountability in spending and other areas
    • possible impact on public trust in science funding, policy processes and those involved in decision-making
  • value for money - expectations for returns from high-risk research, and the challenges for securing, managing and measuring value for money

Streamlining research in ARIA:

  • flexibility - discussion around practical strategies for reducing bureaucracy within ARIA, looking at minimising duplication and layers of review, and the time between application and approval
  • keynote contribution - from Anne Sofield, Programme Director, Simpler and Better Funding, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) on reducing bureaucracy in applications for funding
  • institutional research culture:
    • supporting risk-taking and high ambition, and allowing for the possibility of failure in research endeavours, to enable high-risk innovation to thrive
    • arriving at an optimum balance that can take account of possible safeguarding issues
  • open science and research - assessing:
    • the possible contribution to efficient streamlining of research
    • ways of improving knowledge exchange and facilitating research collaboration domestically, as well as harnessing international research insights

ARIA’s role in the wider R&D system:

  • collaboration:
    • identifying primary areas of opportunity for collaboration and cooperation with established research bodies and funders
    • mechanisms for building trust and learning from best practice
    • how to minimise overlap and duplication, and effectively mark areas of responsibility
  • wider engagement - how ARIA can best interact and liaise with businesses, research charities, local and devolved administrations, and other stakeholders in high-reward innovation ventures
  • talking barriers - approaches to resolving issues relating to research bodies’ varying strategic priorities and timescales, intellectual property issues, and commercial agreements and sensitivities

Key research areas - assessing those areas which are most critical for long-term, high-risk investment, and with the potential for the largest payoffs from research breakthroughs, including:

  • climate change:
    • the potential impact of high-risk research on advanced energy generation, including nuclear power, as well as smart distribution and energy management systems
    • the contribution of advanced high-risk research projects to achieving net-zero ambitions
    • how best to utilise ARIA to support the recently intensified goals for cutting emissions, announced in the Sixth Carbon Budget
  • healthcare system capacity - the potential for ARIA to increase flexibility and responsiveness to future pandemics and health crises through:
    • improved understandings of the spread of rare and infectious diseases
    • streamlined funding of vaccines
    • advanced health care research and population health management
  • defence:
    • the relationship between ARIA and defence innovation, with the Agency being based on the defence-focused ARPA in the United States
    • opportunities for cross-disciplinary research to contribute to defence technology, as well as dovetailing with the Global Britain agenda

Drawing on international practice:

  • keynote contribution - from Dr Alan Bernstein, President & CEO, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
  • implementation - lessons learned from international ARIA equivalents for implementing blue skies research agencies
  • efficiency - best practice in the streamlining of funding and co-operation with existing national research agencies
  • international collaboration - the potential of ARIA to co-operate in high-risk ventures with international partners, and deepen the UK’s standing in the international research landscape, especially in research areas of global concern such as climate change
  • freedom of information - international practice in oversight, governance, transparency and public scrutiny for similar agencies

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from BEIS; the Government Office for Science; HM Revenue & Customs; HM Treasury; the Information Commissioner's Office; the Intellectual Property Office and the Welsh Government.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from other higher education stakeholders including UK and overseas university leaders, programme coordinators, teachers and teaching groups, student unions, foreign embassies, education charities, businesses, skills and employment platforms, and academic researchers, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Sarah Hodgetts

Deputy Director for Science, Research and Innovation, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Anne Sofield

Programme Director, Simpler and Better Funding, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

Dr Alan Bernstein

President & CEO, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research


Chi Onwurah MP

Shadow Minister for Science, Research & Digital

Richard Holden MP


Maurice Frankel

Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information

Dr Kath Mackay

Managing Director, Alderley Park

Dr Kieron Flanagan

Senior Lecturer in Science and Technology Policy, University of Manchester

Fariba Soetan

Policy Lead (Research & Innovation), National Centre for Universities and Business

Professor Francis Livens

Academic Director, School of Chemistry, University of Manchester

Professor Jonathan Seckl

Senior Vice-Principal, Planning, Resources and Research Policy, University of Edinburgh

Professor Chris Speed

Chair, Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Dr Ruth McKernan

Chair, UK BioIndustry Association and former CEO, Innovate UK