‘Brightest minds’ key to future science success

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Diversity in research should be an early focus of the new umbrella organisation for UK science funding, according to the Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

He said it should look at “all the different facets at what makes for a diverse and resilient research system that optimises all the talents available in the country”.

Its new chief executive said the body would support “the brightest minds, while recognising that the brightest minds come in many diverse forms”.

Sir Mark Walport and Mr Johnson were speaking at a launch event for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in London.

UKRI will incorporate the seven existing research councils, as well as Innovate UK and Research England (the research arm of the Higher Education Funding Council for England).

“Research is a global activity,” said Sir Mark.

“We practise in an international landscape, we are internationally diverse, and much of the science that’s done today is international in nature, both through the instruments that are needed, which can’t be funded by any one nation alone, and also by the desire of researchers to work with the best counterparts, wherever they are.”

He said the world of science and research is changing, driven by big data, interdisciplinary research and global collaborations. The world of business and industry is also in flux, driven by factors such as data and the need to re-use resources.

Faced with all of those changes, it made sense “to look at our research and innovation landscape in a much more integrated fashion,” said Sir Mark.

UKRI’s vision was “to be the best research and innovation agency in the world” through:

  • Pushing the frontiers of human knowledge
  • Delivering economic impact and creating better jobs
  • Creating social impact by supporting society to become stronger and healthier.

At the event, Mr Johnson also confirmed an investment of £100 million to attract global talent to the UK through its new Ernest Rutherford Fund.

The fund will provide fellowships for early-career and senior researchers, from the developed world and countries such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico.

“Rutherford and his immense contributions to science exemplify our vision of a Britain that is open to the best minds and ideas in the world, and stands at the forefront of global collective endeavours to understand, and to improve, the world in which we live,” said Mr Johnson.

At the 2016 Autumn Statement, the Government announced an increase in public research and development spending, totalling £4.7bn.

This will provide an additional £2bn a year by 2020-21.

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