INI research funding to double with transformative £10m government grant

21 January 2021




  • EPSRC’s “flagship investment” set to substantially increase its funding for mathematic sciences research in the UK.

  • INI to be a principal beneficiary, with a mandate to double capacity of activities and cascade the effects across the country.

  • Green light given to “adventurous and speculative projects” to help create new academic communities and drive research.

  • National and international partnerships will be grown and facilities upgraded, allowing INI to widen participation and increase diversity.

  • Knowledge exchange with industry will see a significant boost, through the Newton Gateway to Mathematics and a new national network of connected centres.

“What does this funding increase mean for INI, ICMS and the mathematical community?”

Click play above to listen to David Abrahams (Director, INI) and Paul Glendinning (Scientific Director, ICMS) explain the significance of January 2021’s major funding increase for both institutions [Presenter: Dan Aspel, INI Communications Manager]

The UK’s higher mathematical science output is set to expand dramatically from 2021, with a £10m increase in the Isaac Newton Institute (INI)’s primary grant funding effectively doubling its yearly income. This new money will allow a step-change in activity for the UK’s already world-leading mathematical sciences research sector, enabling a far greater number of scientists to follow “adventurous and speculative” projects with enhanced resources in an effect planned to cascade across the country.

The £10m addition will be delivered over a five-year period, and helps take INI’s annual operating budget from £3m to over £5m. Delivered as part of a £300m government investment package for the UK mathematical sciences originally announced in January 2020, the specifics of the amount allotted to INI have today been confirmed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), itself a part of a UK Research and Innovation.

An international research centre and part of the University of Cambridge, INI has in recent years typically hosted two major, community-generated research programmes in parallel at any time – covering subjects as diverse as the behaviour of sea ice, the changing nature of energy supply systems, and homology theories in low-dimensional topology – and provided upwards of 21,000 programme participant days and 9,000 workshop participant days of activity. This has been supplemented by many one-off events and workshops, as well as broader activities aimed at stimulating public engagement and facilitating knowledge exchange (KE).

However, demand from mathematical scientists both within the UK and across Europe and the globe has considerably outstripped supply. In order to meet this demand, INI is set to increase the number of full-size programmes to a permanent capacity of four at any time, to augment the capacity of its Cambridge-based campus, and to work with partners to create accessible venues for further INI and Newton Gateway events.

INI Director Professor David Abrahams said: “It’s recognised that Mathematics is experiencing a golden age. When INI launched its first research programmes in 1992, machine learning and AI were emerging fields. Now they underpin much of modern society. Likewise number theory has proved itself key in the subject of cyber security. Consequently, there’s a greater understanding throughout society of the power of mathematics to aid mankind in all its endeavours, and to help save it. Climate change and the Coronavirus pandemic are two such examples of this. With these additional resources, INI will help ensure that the UK is at the nexus of foundational and applied cutting-edge mathematical sciences research in the coming decades.”

As the Isaac Newton Institute forms a hub for mathematical sciences research in the UK the effect of these investments will spread across the country and beyond. Plans are underway for one strand of the new INI programmes to be held at host universities and higher education centres across Britain, to pioneer new partnerships with industry, and to enhance collaboration with other mathematical centres and institutes such as The Alan Turing Institute, the Edinburgh Mathematical SocietyInnovate UK, the Institute of Mathematics and its applications, the Knowledge Transfer Network, the London Mathematical Society, the Operational Research Society, the Royal Statistical Society and our sister organisation the Edinburgh-based International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS).

Through the Newton Gateway to Mathematics the Institute will provide enhanced KE support to the community. To maximize its impact, we shall continue the Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange in the Mathematical Sciences (V-KEMS) programme, set up as a rapid response initiative during the pandemic, and work with ICMS to develop and deliver a UK connected-centres network to foster new connections.

Beyond these goals, INI will forge new international partnerships with similar centres abroad. This will be achieved, in part, via twinned workshops with our sister institutes worldwide on compatible themes, and the setting up of a number of “global hubs” where participants of INI programmes can assemble in small groups in their local country and engage virtually with the Cambridge site. Pre-COVID-19, INI played host to over 2,500 visiting participants per year, with two thirds of that number travelling from outside of the UK. Stimulated in part by the pandemic the Institute’s hardware and software will be significantly upgraded to permit far greater virtual participation and engagement in its programmes by individual researchers from anywhere in the world. It also provides flexibility and resilience in allowing the running of semi-virtual (hybrid) programmes and other meetings, so that the physical attendance rate can be adjusted – even at short notice – in response to uncertainties such as the ebb and flow of a pandemic.

The move to more flexible mechanisms for engagement in INI activities will help fulfil its longer-term societal roles and responsibilities. These include a drive to significantly reduce travel, increase national and transnational confederations established to tackle global and grand challenges, widening access and participation, and enhance support and training for early career researchers. INI shall have at the heart of all event-planning the need to ensure equality of opportunity, for inclusivity in participation and to aim for gender parity.

This announcement represents both an exciting investment in the future of UK science, and a unique opportunity for researchers – mathematical and otherwise – to engage in and propose new events and collaborative programmes for the coming years of INI operations. Bookmark to stay up to date with developments, and follow the links below to engage with us directly.

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The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (INI) is the world’s foremost mathematical research centre. Welcoming upwards of 2,500 visiting scientists per year from across the globe, it runs community-generated research programmes on selected themes in the mathematical sciences with applications across a wide range of science and technology. Based at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Mathematical Sciences, INI has a vital national and international role in stimulating and nurturing groundbreaking research which routinely moves disciplines.

–> Read more on this story from ICMS

–> Read more on this story from EPSRC

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