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Newton Fund set to double by 2021

Governance board to decide on extra countries in February

The Newton Fund for research projects between the UK and developing countries is to roughly double in size by the end of this parliament.

A briefing note sent by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and seen by Research Fortnight says that the Newton Fund will increase from £75 million a year to £150m a year by 2021. The increase is expected to be gradual at first, followed by a more significant jump in 2020-21. This would take the total cost of the fund to around £735m, rather than the initially planned £375m.

“Following its successful launch 18 months ago, the UK government is significantly increasing the funding for the Newton Fund to enable the UK to build deeper and wider scientific partnerships with countries in support of their economic development and social welfare,” the circular says.

A spokesman from BIS confirmed that the fund would be increased but would not confirm by how much until after an official announcement. Such an announcement was expected during science minister Jo Johnson’s visit to India in December, but instead Johnson merely said that the fund would run until 2021, rather than 2019.

It is possible that the announcement has been delayed due to ongoing conversations around the design of the Global Challenges Research Fund, which was announced in the spending review on 25 November 2015. The two funds are likely to be closely linked, but BIS has said that they will be treated as two separate funding streams.

Another reason for the hold-up could be that the list of partner countries, which will pay the same amount into the fund as the UK, is not yet finalised. The Newton Fund’s governance board is due to meet in February, when it is expected to decide on whether the fund will invite more countries or increase engagement with its existing 15 participants. The rules of the fund say that partner countries must be on the OECD’s Official Development Assistance list, have a fairly developed research and higher education system and be able to provide match-funding. Political stability is also seen as an important factor.

One country whose participation looks certain is Kenya. The circular says that the country has agreed to join on a trilateral basis with South Africa, with its first bids being considered in 2017-18. A source close to the fund says that Kenya would start by doing a small amount of work in collaboration with the British Council.

At its February meeting the board will also set the contributions of partner countries. The aim is to provide firm figures for 2016-17 and provisional ones for the following two years. A source close to government, who asked not to be named, says that these decisions are likely to be influenced by the maturity of the relationships of UK organisations—such as Research Councils UK, Innovate UK, the national academies and the British Council—with their counterparts in partner countries.

Pat Ng, international grants manager at the British Academy, welcomes the larger fund. “The Newton Fund is like a big machine; it takes a while to start it up, but once you’ve got that momentum, you can get so much further,” he says. “The British Academy would welcome the opportunity to strengthen our relationships with the countries we are already working with, because once those relationships have started and embedded you can really go on to do some very good projects. But we are also keen to explore the option of working with some new countries.”

Gerry Bloom—a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and principal investigator at an International Centre Partnership between the IDS and the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which is supported by the Newton Fund—says that the Chinese government is putting a lot of money on the table.

“The test of the effectiveness of the fund will be on whether the funding agencies become very good at working with each other, and can jointly identify priorities and fund research that is relevant to both countries,” he says. “It will work well as long as the UK invests enough effort in building those links.”

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight

This article was amended on 18 January to clarify Gerry Bloom’s affiliation.