The ESRC, on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is pleased to announce the Next Generation Services research call under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Proposals of up to £1.25 million (100% full economic cost) are invited for interdisciplinary research grants, focused on working with businesses to identify the potential opportunities offered by the application of new technologies in the high value services sector (specifically the accountancy, legal services and insurance industries). Successful projects will be expected to start by December 2018 and must be completed by March 2021


The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) was created to ensure that research and innovation takes centre stage in the government's industrial strategy. It brings together UK businesses with the country's world leading research capacity to address key industrial challenges identified as areas where new research and innovation can help UK business acquire or retain a world-leading position and hence underpin the UK’s economic future. The fund is administered by Innovate UK and the research councils, which since April 2018 are constituent parts of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Next Generation Services Challenge

This call is part of the ISCF Next Generation Services Challenge. The objective of the Challenge is to maintain the UK’s leadership in global high-value services by developing a targeted approach to support R&D in the emerging new technologies based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the data economy, one of four 'Grand Challenge' areas identified in the government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper. These sectors are facing competition from other nations, particularly in the Far East, implementing new technology-driven solutions.

These new technologies encompass a range of innovations made possible by the development of increasingly sophisticated algorithms and the exponential growth in computer power and data volumes which they rely on, including for example machine learning, computer vision, speech recognition and natural language processing.

This is a ‘Pioneer’ initiative that will focus in the first instance on the accountancy, legal services and insurance industries. These sectors, in which the UK can be regarded as a global leader, share an ultimate reliance on the knowledge, experience and skills of their trained professionals to maintain their competitive advantage in delivering the services they provide. However, the deployment of new AI technologies in principle offers the potential of transformative change in current business models. This could be achieved by processing complex data faster and more accurately than can be done by humans, identifying patterns in the data which would otherwise not be visible and using this to forecast, target relevant information, recognise mistakes and spot inconsistencies.

The Next Generation Services Research Programme is one of two elements to this Challenge, the other element being a Collaborative Research and Development (CR&D) programme, led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation, aimed at business-led consortia with the object of accelerating the adoption of AI technologies in the targeted sectors. Note that a requirement of successful proposals to the Research Programme will be that they engage proactively with the Collaborative R&D element of the Challenge. Further details will be released shortly.

Next Generation Services Research Programme

The call focuses on identifying the potential opportunities offered by the application of new technologies in the targeted sectors as well as the potential barriers to adoption and how to resolve these so that the benefits offered by the new technology for both individual businesses and wider society can be fully realised: There are many opportunities to improve these services with new technology but there are barriers to adoption that are social and behavioural. The aim of the research programme will be to identify more specifically the challenges and friction costs that, if addressed, are likely to speed up adoption and diffusion, and propose options to address these that industry can implement.

This call is for interdisciplinary research aimed at addressing the broad range of technical and socio-economic challenges presented by this disruptive new technology. It will draw not only on core technical areas relevant to AI such as computer and data science and maths but also relevant disciplines from the social sciences and humanities; these may include, but are not limited to, behavioural and management science, economics, finance, law, ethics and anthropology. Similarly, although academic led, proposals are required to have the support and active engagement of at least one industry partner from the designated industries to ensure the direct relevance of the proposed research programme to the ultimate objectives of the Challenge as identified above.

Town meetings about the call were held on 22 and 23 May 2018. 

Key dates

  • Call open: 18 May 2018
  • Closing date for proposals: 16:00 on 18 July 2018
  • Panel meeting: September 2018
  • Grants start: by December 2018

Call documents