Final open letter from Sir Mark Walport to the research and innovation community
Professor Sir Mark Walport
UK Research and Innovation was established during a period of significant change and, as I prepare to leave after three enjoyable, challenging and rewarding years, we find ourselves in the midst of a further period of fundamental change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am pleased that UKRI has been able to deliver an excellent response during the pandemic and has demonstrated the power of the collective working of the nine Councils. It has been a huge effort by many people to bring together nine separate funding agencies and it has been a privilege to work with so many talented people in building UKRI to be the organisation that it is today.
I will retain a role in leading the response to COVID-19 for a short while longer but I stand down as Chief Executive with a strong sense of pride in what so many people in the UK research and innovation community have done to address the pandemic, and am pleased that UKRI was able to play its part in supporting this.
Although ghastly, COVID-19 is exactly the kind of scenario that UKRI was set up to deal with – requiring an interdisciplinary approach, global in outlook, that demonstrates the benefits of research and innovation to everybody in society, whether through progress on a vaccine, identifying therapeutic interventions through the hugely important work in the RECOVERY trials, understanding the economic, cultural and social consequences, or working with partners across the world. All our councils have taken on extra work, adapting and delivering at pace to support not just work on COVID-19 but also maintain business as usual as far as possible.
The period before COVID-19 can feel like a long time ago, so it can be easy to overlook how much UKRI has achieved in the short time that it has existed. I’m particularly pleased with the major cross-cutting programmes that we have launched, such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Strategic Priorities Fund and the Strength in Places Fund. These major investments would not have been possible before UKRI existed. We have worked hard to reinforce our relationships with our traditional partners in the research community, but I’m particularly satisfied by the efforts of colleagues across councils to continue building successful partnerships with the business community. UKRI is well placed to take advantage of the government’s plans to increase investment in research and innovation.
None of this is possible without the hard-working, excellent staff within UKRI, supported by all of the members of the Executive Committee, the valued support and challenge of our Board members, and the lively and engaging discussions we’ve had with the wider research and innovation community. It has been a pleasure to spend time with the many colleagues I have met and the fascinating projects and ideas we have worked on in my time at UKRI. It has been an opportunity to bring together the many experiences I have had in my career, starting out in medical research, then leading the Wellcome Trust, and as Government Chief Scientific Adviser seeing first hand how research influences policy development.
I leave UK Research and Innovation fully established and highly capable, at the heart of the nation’s research and innovation funding landscape. If ever there was a time of enormous need for research and innovation, it is now. We face the ongoing pandemic and its aftermath. But we also face the demographic challenges of more than 7.5 billion people on the planet. Our collective impacts are legion - climate change, pollution, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. On top of all this we are in the midst of an industrial revolution of extraordinary scale and scope. Research and innovation will be essential for the future of our health, wellbeing, resilience and security. UK Research and Innovation has been created as the right organisation at the right time.
I am delighted that Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser is joining UKRI as Chief Executive to lead it into the next stage of its evolution. I wish her and her colleagues and all the research and innovation community around the UK and our partners around the world the very best for the extraordinary work that lies ahead.
Professor Sir Mark Walport
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