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UK launches National Quantum Strategy

Funding, skills and regulation are all included.

By Ryan Morrison

The UK government has published an updated National Quantum Strategy as part of last week’s Budget, including the promise of £2.5bn funding for quantum technologies, new research centres and work on regulating the technology. The move also includes efforts to direct private investment, and a new quantum skills programme to develop talent to work in what is expected to become a multi-billion-pound sector.

The ten-year plan sets out a number of ambitious goals to achieve by 2033, including ensuring the UK remains one of the top three countries in terms of quantum investment, technology and companies. The £2.5bn funding will be spread over ten years starting in 2024 and more than doubles the £1bn committed as part of the last quantum strategy.

The aim is also to drive at least another £1bn in private investment into the programme over the same time period to make the UK the “go-to place for quantum business and an integral part of the global supply chain, as well as a preferred location for investors and global talent”.

The hope is that through private and public investment, including the government spending millions directly on quantum hardware and software, it will deliver benefits for the economy, society and national security.

Security is also mentioned as part of the new strategy, with a push to create a national and international regulatory framework to support innovation and the ethical use of quantum technologies. This is likely to include restrictions on the export and foreign use of British-developed quantum technology outside of partnered countries.

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It sets a target to have funded an additional 1000 postgraduate research students in quantum-relevant disciplines by 2033 on top of the 470 funded to date.

There will also be a drive to sign bilateral arrangements on quantum collaboration with five further quantum nations on top of the one already in place with the US, and support for businesses working in the sector to attract investment and talent.

The UK currently has about 12 per cent of all global private equity investment in quantum and the aim is that by 2033 this will have increased to 15 per cent, while the share of the quantum market is expected to rise from the current 9 per cent to at least 15 per cent by 2033.

One factor not directly related to the development or investment in quantum technology will see the government help UK companies prepare for the impact of quantum computing. So far about 25- to-33 per cent of businesses have taken steps to prepare for quantum computing, it’s hoped by 2033 this will rise to 75 per cent of those in relevant sectors.

There will be a new network of research hubs in areas of quantum technologies and sciences to ensure the UK is at the head of future developments, as well as accelerator programmes to increase the pace of progress towards the commercialisation of quantum technologies.

To speed this up there will be training and talent programmes beyond postgraduate funding for professionals wanting to move into the field and investment in infrastructure to support both researchers and companies. Some of this will also come from a £900m investment in exascale computing to help researchers as well as investment in fundamental research and the National Quantum Computing Centre.

The strategy comes into play in 2024 but Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced more immediate funding for certain aspects starting this year. This will see a £70m programme of missions in quantum computing, a £100m investment in R&D hubs, £25m for quantum fellowships and £15m for the government to buy quantum technologies for public use.

Secretary of state for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said the strategy would “make the UK the home for cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, the best place in the world to start and grow a quantum business, a leading voice in the international quantum and tech community, and a magnet for international quantum talent”.

Harvey Lewis, partner of client technology and innovation at EY said the strategy was a “signal that the ambition to prepare for and adopt quantum technologies amongst UK businesses must now become a reality”, adding that it will have a far broader reach than those currently using it.

“The good news is the UK is well-positioned to realise the benefits of quantum,” he told Tech Monitor. “Here we have a world-class research base, a vibrant community of start-up and scale-up companies, established suppliers, and mature sectors that represent early adopters.”

“However, optimism around quantum needs to be grounded in reality as much as strategy. An important reality at the moment that needs to be holistically addressed across an array of emerging technologies is of course skills. Human-centred innovation is critical to making any transformative technology a success and we must address the shortfall in skills and talent in order for technologies like quantum and AI to be used successfully.”

Dr Graeme Malcolm OBE, CEO and founder of quantum and photonics company M Squared, says the strategy is a promising sign that the ambition of turning the UK into a science superpower could be a reality. He was particularly pleased with the investment in cutting-edge technologies in the form of the £2.5bn fund.

“The UK has the world-leading research institutes, start-ups and scale-ups needed to be a global leader in quantum – but the international race for quantum advantage is heating up, and so this funding provides welcome relief for the companies and academics at the forefront of maintaining our national competitiveness in this space,” Malcolm says.

“It was also encouraging to hear Mr Hunt recognise the importance of regional investment in innovation – it is city regions like Glasgow which have the world-class universities, skills and global supply chain companies needed to drive the UK’s economic recovery.”

This piece was originally published on TechMonitor on 15 March.

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