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UK government spends £27 million on semiconductors

The UK government has pledged the best part of £27 million in funding the further the country's semiconductor ambitions.

Mary Lennighan

February 9, 2024

3 Min Read

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) plans to give two new semiconductor R&D centres at universities in the south of England £11 million each to, in its own words, help them bring new chip technologies to market. It will also provide a further £4.8 million in funding to 11 semiconductor skills projects at educational establishments.

The move forms part of the £1 billion National Semiconductor Strategy the government announced in May last year. £26.8 million is something of a drop in the ocean compared with that headline figure, but it's all progress. That £1 billion is set to be doled out over a 10-year period, including £200 million to be spent in 2023-2025.

"To coincide with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology's one-year anniversary – two new research hubs in Southampton and Bristol have received a cash injection to boost research in silicon photonics and compound semiconductors," the government said.

Yep, it's a whole year since the government created DSIT. Time really does fly when you're having fun...

The two research hubs, or Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKC), as the government has dubbed them – because why say 'research hub' when you can use more and bigger words – will be tasked with converting scientific research into business realities. They will provide researchers with prototyping technology to test designs and will support early-stage companies.

The REWIRE facility at the University of Bristol will support chip companies across the South West and Wales, helping to further the UK's net zero ambition by advancing high-voltage electronic devices with cutting-edge compound semiconductors, DSIT said. Meanwhile, the Cornerstone centre in Southampton will build on the university's specialism in silicon photonics.

We don't have a lot of information on the semiconductor skills projects that will also pick up a slice of funding. They are designed to raise awareness of the semiconductor industry and help with the skills gap, apparently.

"This investment marks a crucial step in advancing our ambitions for the semiconductor industry, with these centres helping bring new technologies to market in areas like net zero and AI, rooting them right here in the UK," said Saqib Bhatti, Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy.

"Just nine months into delivering on the National Semiconductor Strategy, we’re already making rapid progress towards our goals," Bhatti said. "This isn't just about fostering growth and creating high-skilled jobs, it's about positioning the UK as a hub of global innovation, setting the stage for breakthroughs that have worldwide impact."

Hmmm. It's a nice idea. But it's difficult to see the UK truly holding its own on the global stage with these semiconductor investments.

Just across the Channel we have the EU making a big bid for a slice of the semiconductor action as part of an ongoing effort towards technology sovereignty, It still aims to produce 20% of the world's semiconductors by 2030, and while that might be a tall order, at least the bloc has some scale behind its endeavours.

Meanwhile, further afield, South Korea is pledging some serious cash to fund its own semiconductor ambitions. Less than a month ago the country unveiled a detailed plan to build a $471 billion semiconductor mega cluster, made up of chip factories and R&D centres. That hefty budget, some of which will come from the private sector, covers the period to 2047; it's a long-term effort designed to help South Korea fend off new competition in the semiconductor market.

An £11 million research hub in the UK is not in the same league, even in the context of a broader £1 billion investment plan. The UK government is making the right noises, but is not pushing hard enough on silicon to really position itself in the thick of the action.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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