Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please.

What, you may ask, is this blog about? Is it just going to feature random references to the well-known 1990 film featuring Sean Connery and a slightly dodgy Russian accent?

The short answer is no (phew I hear you say). But there is a link.

Because hunting for silent submarines can feel quite similar to hunting for research and development funding to small and specialist higher education providers (a subject we have blogged about before. Funding, not submarines).

One of the reasons is that the funding landscape is getting more complex and yet funding is also elusive. It’s easy to see the big aircraft carriers of the funding world (eg research council grants and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund). They are big, carry great prestige and often as unachievable to win as a place bidding to build an aircraft carrier. The competition is fierce.

And when one is won, the infrastructure needed to support its effective delivery also needs building. It’s partly why so many big projects go to well-established players in either the carrier-building or research worlds. It’s easy to forget about the submarines when you are always aiming for the big win.

It’s also a challenge for the government. How do you best invest when you want to both use research and development to meet fundamental economic challenges and at the same time to address socio-economic imbalances between places in the UK?

UKRI’s terms for the Strength in Places competition show the conflicting demands that need to be met and focuses on the big projects. Few places could ever build the aircraft-carrier but with help more could build submarines.

But there is hope. Back in July, Research England announced a new fund that should have pinged many a SONAR at smaller higher education providers in all parts of England: the Research England Development Fund (aka the RED Fund).

The great thing about this fund is that it is (in part) aiming to support small and specialist higher education providers develop their capacity to deliver on Industrial Strategy goals. RED may include “projects to unlock potential of HEIs that do not have critical mass currently to gain a HEIF formula allocation, and enhancing impact through social innovation and enterprise”.

Much like Red October, this fund has appeared after much searching and has sent a clear signal that it wants to be found by smaller providers. Smaller and specialist higher education providers can now close in, escort and maximise the potential of this supportive funding to build their capacity. Before the net tightens and they lose the opportunity.

Worse still would be for funders to fail to invest in different ideas from outside of the larger pack having invited them in.  It’s worth remembering that The Hunt for Red October would have ended very differently if Ryan and Ramius had not trusted each other and worked together. Both funders and smaller providers need to take advantage of this opportunity in order to deliver on the Industrial Strategy’s core aim of boosting productivity and earning power throughout the UK.

So if you work for a small or specialist higher education provider, why not embark on your own hunt for RED this October?

You can find out more about the RED fund on Research England’s website: https://re.ukri.org/finance/apply-for-funding/research-england-development-red-fund/

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