Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Strength in Numbers

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Strength in Numbers

Article excerpt

John Kingman, chair of the newly created UKRI, explains the philosophy that will govern 'nine brains in one body'

After the US, the UK has by any measure the best science on Earth, and the best research universities on Earth. This is an exceptional economic asset. The rest of the world would kill to have what we have.

The creation and application of new ideas is critical for long-term productivity growth. It is also necessary for addressing the complex challenges facing our society, such as climate change, ageing, security and delivering better public services - not least through intelligent government policy, well informed by outstanding work in the humanities and social sciences.

For two decades, the Treasury has bought these arguments - and, with them, the need to invest serious money in research and innovation. I am proud to have been personally closely involved in this, through five spending reviews and innumerable budgets.

As Sir Paul Nurse argued in his milestone review of the research councils last year, we must continue to win this argument. This means making the case clearly, persuasively and loudly to critical decision-makers. It also means demonstrably making the most of the extraordinary assets we have.

This is why I am delighted to have been asked to be the first non-executive chair of UK Research and Innovation: the new strategic, overarching body unveiled last week in the Higher Education and Research Bill to be put before Parliament.

Certain fundamental principles need to be non-negotiable. The government has rightly reiterated its commitment to the Haldane principle, ensuring that the best researchers will continue to be responsible for deciding which research projects are funded. And I have also always been a firm believer in the merits of the dual-support system for research, which will be enshrined in the new legislation.

But I also think that there are subtler points about UKRI's governing philosophy that it is important to bear in mind.

First, bringing together under one body the seven research councils, Innovate UK and the research funding functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England will be an important opportunity, and I will work with their leaders to ensure that the transition to UKRI retains the huge strengths and values of all these bodies, and the autonomy that they need to serve their communities. …

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