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New CEO of 'UK Research & Innovation' critical for its success

13 December 2016

The soon to be appointed CEO of UKRI will be critical for making a success of the new organisation, the Science and Technology Committee reports.

Revolution in our research and innovation landscape

Science and Technology Committee Chair, Stephen Metcalfe MP, said:

"UKRI represents a revolution in our research and innovation landscape, and the new organisation will change how the country funds and commercialises publicly-funded research. Getting UKRI right will secure our position as a research superpower at a time when it is crucial to protect and build upon our strengths."

"The soon-to-be-appointed Chief Executive of UKRI will play a crucial role in determining the success of the new organisation. They will have to address the concerns that the science and innovation sector has raised about the Government's plans for UKRI. The Government will need to take great care in appointing the UKRI Board to ensure it has the right balance of experience of innovation and research throughout the UK, to avoid any disconnect between UKRI's UK-wide and England-only remits."

Higher Education and Research Bill

The Higher Education and Research Bill will see the Government create 'UK Research & Innovation' (UKRI) — a new organisation of 9 ‘councils' comprising the 7 research councils, Innovate UK and Research England. Bringing these bodies together could make the inter-disciplinary research that Government policy-making needs easier, but the individual strengths of the constituent bodies will remain a crucial pre-requisite of UKRI's overall success.
Key concerns raised in the Committee's inquiry will need to be addressed — protecting the existing ‘dual-support' funding system for university research; respecting the ‘Haldane principle' which prevents ministers from deciding on funding for individual research projects; ensuring the expertise in the research councils continues to be heard; maintaining the business-facing focus of Innovate UK; and addressing the disconnect between UKRI's UK-wide and England-only remits.

Stephen Metcalfe MP said:

"Innovate UK's business-facing focus must be protected, whilst bringing funding streams for university research together within UKRI must not allow blue-sky research to be devalued. Also, the links between research and teaching in universities must be seamless. These are all strengths which have allowed our universities to flourish until now – nationally and internationally — and must be kept centre-stage."

Recurring issues

The competition for the appointment of UKRI's Chief Executive is underway, and whoever is chosen will have the responsibility (alongside interim chair Sir John Kingman) of determining the organisation's structure.

The Committee has followed the progress of the Government's proposals and its Higher Education and Research Bill, holding seminars for stakeholders at the Royal Society and taking evidence from the previous Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Sir Paul Nurse (who reviewed the research councils in 2015) and Sir John Kingman. Throughout its inquiry and hearings, the Committee examined a number of recurring issues:

  • Dual support funding – the Haldane principle and the separate distribution of research council ‘quality related' funding and HEFCE block grants, which will in future be managed within the same UKRI organisation.
  • Council autonomy – the influence of the individual councils in UKRI.
  • Innovation and research – the interaction and funding for innovation and research within UKRI.
  • Teaching and research – the relationship between research and teaching through the remits of the Office for Students and UKRI, and between DfE and BEIS.
  • Governance – the role of the UKRI board and its CEO and Chair.

Further information

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