Kieron Flanagan, senior lecturer in science and technology policy at the Alliance Manchester Business School, said that although using language such as “challenge” in the policy was new, it covered an old idea – problem-solving or applied research.
“It represents the re-legitimisation of spending money on applied research,” says Dr Flanagan.
This type of research funding fell out of favour during the late 1970s and 1980s as Margaret Thatcher, who was then prime minister, favoured basic or blue-skies research that has no immediate application.
Her government believed that using taxpayers’ money to fund applied research was in effect a subsidy for industry, and for most part, Whitehall pulled out of funding this type of research with the hope that companies would fill the void. But, in reality, private investment stalled.
“The UK hasn’t chosen to invest in it for 30 years, which may explain why it has fallen behind with technology. It is missing capacity,” said Dr Flanagan.