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New research and innovation body aims to make UK 'go-to place for scientists'

Joseph Flaig

UKRI chief executive Sir Mark Walport sets out his vision for the body in Westminster
UKRI chief executive Sir Mark Walport sets out his vision for the body in Westminster

A new research and innovation body aims to make the UK “the go-to place for scientists, innovators and technology entrepreneurs the world over,” a minister has said.

The vision for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) was set out today at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster. The body, which will start operating from 1 April 2018, will bring together seven existing specialist research councils to take responsibility for all public research spending in Britain.

The new body will co-ordinate and oversee the work of the research organisations, including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Medical Research Council. The UKRI will provide a unified voice for dialogue with the Government and abroad, said chief executive Sir Mark Walport, and will focus more on inter-disciplinary and collaborative research to tackle global challenges with greater flexibility.

Ministers and bosses hope the UKRI, and a newly-announced £100 million global fund to attract scientists to work in the UK, will help maintain the country’s high standing in international research despite the impending exit from the European Union. Last year, prime minister Theresa May announced an extra £4.7 billion for research over four years, and UKRI will have a turnover of £8 billion a year in 2020. Its goal is lofty but simple, said Sir Walport: to be “the best research and innovation agency in the world”. 

Big changes in engineering and technology means research needs to adapt, said Sir Walport. “The world of business and industry is changing as we go through the 4th Industrial Revolution… we live in a world of business which is increasingly driven by data, the availability of data and the ability to analyse it in new ways,” he said.

He also stressed the need for better education to encourage more young people into engineering. “We need more effective maths education… to illustrate the huge career opportunities of engineering,” he said to Professional Engineering.

The UKRI will play a large role in the prime minister’s aim of making the UK an attractive destination for scientists and innovators, said Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation. “It is baffling to me that we got to this stage without this capability in our system,” he said. “I think UKRI will be absolutely indispensable. It will be hugely influential in our own decision making.”

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