£100m Ernest Rutherford fund to attract skilled researchers to UK ahead of Brexit

Joseph Flaig

Ernest Rutherford (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress))
Ernest Rutherford (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress))

A new £100 million fund will attract “highly skilled” researchers to the UK ahead of Brexit, the Government has said.

Named after Nobel Prize winner, father of nuclear physics and immigrant Ernest Rutherford, the fund was announced by universities and science minister Jo Johnson at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster.

The announcement came as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) chief executive Sir Mark Walport set out his vision for the new organisation, which will oversee all public research funding – including the Rutherford Fund – from 1 April 2018. The UKRI brings together seven research councils, including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The new fund will provide fellowships for early-career and senior researchers from the developed world and “emerging research powerhouses” like India, China, Brazil and Mexico.

“The Rutherford Fund will send a strong signal that, even as we leave the European Union, we are open to the world – more so than ever – and will reinforce our ambition of making the UK the top nation for innovation and discovery,” said Johnson.

The Government is “right to want to attract international talent to the UK” said Peter Finegold, head of education and skills at IMechE. However, he said it was “curious” that the announcement did not mention the need to attract highly-skilled research engineers, who can commercialise new inventions.

“We must resist an over-focus on basic research,” he said. “In addition, it is vital that funds like this do not become lazy alternatives to the UK investing in, supporting and developing the country’s own invention and innovation talent.”

Immigrants from around the world are already at the cutting edge of the UK’s “over-achieving” research sector, said Finegold. The Government must continue to make the UK an attractive destination for the best engineering minds whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations, he added.

The Department for Education failed to respond in time to Professional Engineering's questions about the fund’s allocation and promotion, and if it will attract engineers.

This article appears in the print July/August issue of PE


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