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expert reaction to Prof Sir Mark Walport being appointed as chief executive of UKRI

It has been announced that the new CEO of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) will be Professor Sir Mark Walport.


Sir Paul Nurse, who led the Nurse Review of research councils and is director of the Francis Crick Institute, says:

“Mark Walport brings a wealth of experience and proven scientific leadership to the important but complex position of chief executive officer (CEO) of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This powerful new position has great potential to drive major advances in UK science, but given the unease in some quarters of the scientific community about this position, the work of the CEO must be handled with great care, inclusiveness, and political subtlety.

“There are significant tasks that need to be immediately tackled. First there is very difficult problem of Brexit. The UKRI CEO can provide the much needed, and presently lacking, leadership needed to deliver the best deal for UK science. Mark’s robust qualities will help push science much further up the Brexit agenda where it belongs. Second the CEO must ensure the independence of the Research Councils so they can deliver their more discipline-focussed activities with the greatest effectiveness. Sitting at arm’s length from government, the UKRI CEO can simplify operational procedures and also provide the Research Councils with greater protection from the overly bureaucratic interventions that sometimes emerge from government departments. The CEO must in addition maintain a proper balance across all disciplines, from the physical sciences to the social sciences and humanities. Unusually for most scientists Mark will have been exposed to such a range during his time as the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor. Third the research budget needs to be increased. In the UK it has been languishing for years, but has recently has received a very welcome boost due to the formation of UKRI and the clear place of science in the government’s new industrial strategy. However, as well as contributing to economic growth, the CEO must ensure that research works more generally for the public good, through improving health and the quality of life as well as by enhancing our culture and civilisation through better knowledge and understanding of the natural world and of ourselves.

“Mark is to be congratulated on his appointment, and the scientific and scholarly communities should help and support him to deliver what is needed to drive UK scientific and scholarly activities forward and to make sure that the UK is a major world powerhouse for science and research.”


Patrick Vallance, President R&D at GSK, said:

“The appointment of Mark Walport to this critical role recognises the great breadth of his experience within leading research institutions, his knowledge of and collaboration with the industrial science sector, and his passion for the life sciences. I am confident he will ensure the UK continues to thrive as a vibrant research ecosystem and maintains its position as a leader in science.”


Prof. Philip Nelson, Chair of Research Councils UK, said:

“Mark is a fantastic choice as the first Chief Executive of UKRI. His career has taken him through active research, leadership of high profile organisations and into government. This experience and his knowledge of how the research and innovation base and policy making works is unrivalled. I am confident Mark will ensure UKRI delivers on the potential of a more coordinated and strategic research and innovation system, with a stronger and clearer voice. Together with my colleagues across the Research Councils I look forward to working with him over the next year to establish UKRI and set it on a successful course.”


Dr Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, said:

“The creation of UK Research and Innovation is an unprecedented opportunity to fuse together world leading UK science with cutting edge innovation from British businesses. To make sure the new organisation delivers on that opportunity it will require the sort of strong leadership and expert knowledge that Sir Mark will bring to the role.

“His substantial experience will set UKRI up for success and the whole team at Innovate UK look forward to continuing to work closely with him to make sure that UKRI is fully prepared to address the scientific, economic and social challenges of the future.”


Prof. Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:

“We look forward to working with Sir Mark over the coming months in the period of transition to the creation of UK Research and Innovation. The HEFCE Chief Executive, Directors and staff will work with the new Chief Executive to ensure a smooth and efficient process in developing the UKRI and for transferring the relevant staff from HEFCE.

“Sir Mark has tremendous experience of research in the public, charity and university sectors. He will bring this to bear on the creation and operation of this very important new public body which will deliver Government policy for science and innovation in the future.”


Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, said:

“I am pleased to hear about Sir Mark’s new role leading UKRI. He has been a great advocate for public engagement in the past during his time at Wellcome Trust and more recently as the government’s chief scientific adviser. I hope that that support will continue when he takes on the leadership of UKRI and he will continue to create opportunities and support researchers to get out of the lab and speak to the public.”


Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

“Sir Mark Walport’s appointment as CEO of UK Research and Innovation is excellent news.  Mark’s broad experience leading the Wellcome Trust and as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government will serve him well as UKRI establishes itself as a strong and unified voice for science that can help tackle the considerable challenges that lie ahead, both national and global.  Mark should also be well placed to address the concerns of the science community about ensuring that establishing UKRI causes minimal disruption to an already highly efficient research ecosystem and protects the autonomy of the individual Research Councils.”


Naomi Weir, Deputy Director at Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said:

“With great power comes great responsibility. Since the conception of UKRI the science community have been very mindful that the Chief Executive will have a pivotal role in setting the tone for UKRI.

“As well as strong leadership and acute political nous, a firm commitment to listening to the science and innovation community, working collaboratively and nurturing the autonomy of UKRI’s constituent Councils will be essential. It is a crucial role for UK research and innovation and we wish Sir Mark well.”


Prof. Lord Martin Rees, Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, said:

“Mark Walport, as Government Chief Scientific Advisor, has been a strong proponent of a more monolithic structure for UK science funding. The establishment of UKRI entails an upheaval of the existing system. It combines nine existing organisations under a single ‘superdirector’ and line manager.

“He now finds himself holding that extremely powerful new position. One hopes that he will be mindful of the concerns about how this unwieldy conglomerate will operate, and the widespread view that the individual research councils should not be downgraded.”


Steve Bates CEO of the UK Bioindustry Association (BIA), said:

“The BIA congratulate Prof Sir Mark Walport on his appointment as Chief Executive of UKRI to which he brings an unparalleled experience of life science and a deep understanding of government.

“Mark’s success in this new role will not just be in funding the right science but also in ensuring it is successfully and speedily translated, industrialised and scaled into economic wealth for the country.

“In the Brexit era it’s a mission UK life science businesses look forward to working closely with him on in the months and years ahead.”


Prof. John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, UCL, said:

“We need Mark to commit to European collaboration as a top priority”


Prof. Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Professor of Psychological Medicine, King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, said:

“It will be a very difficult role but if anyone can do it, Mark can.  Good luck and do look after both Small and Big science.”


Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“UKRI will be a vital supporter of science and research at a critical time for the UK, and Sir Mark Walport will bring unparalleled experience to a very important job.  We look forward to working with Mark and his team on our shared priorities.”


Declared interests

None declared

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