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expert reaction to Prof Sir Mark Walport retiring as CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) next year

It has been announced that Prof Sir Mark Walport will be retiring as CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) next year.


Sir Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, said:

“Mark brought his experience and expertise as a research immunologist, Head of Medicine at Imperial College, Director of the Wellcome Trust and Government Chief Scientific Advisor, to the difficult job of setting up UKRI. He has done a formidable job bringing together the UK research endeavour and guiding the development of UKRI. Under his leadership, UKRI has been established from scratch and has been forged into a unified body for research.

“Throughout his career he has advocated powerfully on behalf of science, ensuring ongoing Government commitment to investment in research. It has been a pleasure to work with him in his various posts. He will be difficult to replace, and will be sorely missed as a committed, dedicated and effective Chief Executive of UKRI.”


Prof Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“Sir Mark has skilfully navigated the tremendous challenge of bringing together our esteemed Research Councils under the single banner of UKRI. In doing so, he has overseen one of the most radical changes of the research funding landscape in the UK in recent times. This groundwork was essential to  meet the changing demands of modern research, where the boundaries between disciplines have blurred and where collaborative approaches are required to address the greatest research challenges.

“Specifically Sir Mark has managed to successfully oversee this transition: bringing a renewed focus to the dual-funding mechanism for research; championing open access and transparency in research; and ensuring that the UK has the necessary structures to deliver the Government’s target to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP.

“On a personal note, I have very much enjoyed working with Sir Mark over the years and have appreciated his wit and wisdom. He was also a founder Fellow and first Registrar of the Academy, and we have benefitted greatly from his wise advice and support over the last 20 years.

“Though this is undoubtedly sad news, I am pleased to see that Sir Mark is not leaving his post until 2020, giving UKRI time to plan for his departure. Though UKRI has been set on the right course, it will require a brilliant leader to continue this progress, setting the UK on a path to achieving the 2.4% target and guiding the organisation through the uncertain times ahead.”


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

“We will be sorry to see Sir Mark depart. He has been a long-standing champion for public engagement with science and research. His advocacy has meant even more researchers are talking with public and school audiences, which has led to higher trust in science and research. At a time when we are facing significant challenges around climate change, vaccines, antibiotics, etc, it’s crucial the next head of the UK’s biggest research funder continues Sir Mark’s work, which has enabled researchers to engage with and understand public views in bigger and better ways.”


Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Health and Social Care, said:

“Sir Mark Walport has been one of the great leaders in science and healthcare. He brought his wide prior expertise including as a leading scientist, Director of the Wellcome Trust and Government Chief Scientific Adviser to the very challenging role of forming UKRI, and made a real success of it. This has been critical to the future success of UK science and innovation. Whether in UK science, science in government or healthcare we all owe him a debt of gratitude.”


Sir Michael Dixon, Director, Natural History Museum, said:

“Mark has made a huge impact on British science reinforcing the importance of scientific evidence in Government decision-making and leading transformative research initiatives during his distinguished career in research, as a funder of research, and at the heart of government”


Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, Chair, Wellcome Trust, said:

“Mark steered Wellcome as its Director for ten busy years. We are tremendously grateful for what he achieved, for his profound commitment to humanity and its health and for the energy and dedication he brought to the task. His successes are too numerous to list but many lives have been saved and improved through his leadership.”


Prof Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust, said:

“I’d like to congratulate Sir Mark Walport on all he’s accomplished as Chief Executive of UKRI. His extraordinary vision and energetic leadership have been transformational for the Research Councils. Throughout his time at UKRI, and his previous roles as Government advisor and Wellcome Director, he has made a unique and enduring contribution to science, society and global health. I will miss working with him immensely, he has been a great mentor, wise advisor and critical friend, always with a generosity of spirit and enjoyment in the success of others. His remarkable legacy will continue to benefit us all, and the global scientific endeavour for many years to come.”


Prof Dame Anne Glover FRS PRSE, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said:

“I have had the pleasure of working with Sir Mark whilst he was CEO of the Wellcome Trust, as UK Chief Scientific Adviser and most recently as CEO of UKRI.  He has done an outstanding job guiding the development of UKRI and ensuring inclusivity of views at all times.  I will be sad to see him leave this role as he has been able to secure continued investment in research and development from which every citizen benefits. I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do in future.”


Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said:

“I want to pay tribute to Sir Mark Walport for the incredible job that he has done to establish UKRI as a real force for good. He is an inspirational leader who has provided direction and focus at a critical time for research and innovation. Sir Mark has laid the foundation of success for our sector and I wish him every success and all good wishes for the future.”


Prof Venki Ramakrishnan, President, The Royal Society, said:

“Mark Walport has led UKRI in exceptional times and has always ensured that science has had a strong voice in Government.  He has helped to deliver a real commitment, from successive Governments, to investing in research as a way of securing the long term health, wealth and happiness of the people of the UK.

“In his remaining time, the greatest challenge for Mark must be to continue to fight for the best possible outcome for science from the chaos of Brexit.”


Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said:

“Sir Mark is an impressive leader who has made a unique and positive contribution to British science and science engagement for more than 15 years and been a great friend of the Science Museum Group, where he was recently made a Fellow. He has done so much to put science at the heart of culture, first at the helm of the Wellcome Trust, then as Government Chief Scientific Adviser and now as Chief Executive of UKRI. He’ll leave huge shoes to fill.”


Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it.  So our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared, instead they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.

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