Alan Turing Institute governance ‘not fit for purpose’

Independent review finds evidence of clear value but calls for governance and relationships to evolve, and for stronger funding settlement

April 24, 2024
Alan Turing plaque
Source: iStock/chrisdorney

The Alan Turing Institute is being hindered in its goal of being the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence because of its governance structure and other issues, according to a new report.

The review, which was conducted by a panel of independent experts to mark the first five years of its operations, found that there has been clear value in the institute’s activities and outputs.

However, the governance structure of the institute – which is backed by more than a dozen leading research universities and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – is now a “hindrance”, according to the panel.

“It is apparent that the current governance of the institute acts as one of the barriers to fulfilling the national institute role,” the report says.

“The panel believes that there is clear need for the governance and leadership structure of the institute to evolve.”

The panel says governance should reflect the transition from the founding university members, as primary funders and stakeholders, to a greater diversity in board membership representative of the wider ecosystem.

It is not the first time that the Alan Turing Institute has come under criticism, with a recent report by Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague of Richmond recommending its functions be wound down after warning that it has not kept the UK at the cutting edge of international AI developments.

While some of the research examined was found to be internationally leading, not all programmes were considered to be “additive”, and some were even judged to be duplicative of other institutions.

The experts also highlight issues in the Alan Turing Institute’s relationships with its wider ecosystem, including challenges engaging with the institute, operational barriers to entry, and seeing it as a “competitor rather than a collaborator”.

“There is a perception in some parts of the AI landscape, and particularly in parts of academia, that the institute is not representative of the whole community,” says the report.

It warns that if the institute is to act as the national institute for data science and AI, it needs to be provided with appropriate “core” funding through a multi-year arrangement.

The government recently announced a £100 million investment in the centre to address national and international challenges in areas such as health, environment and sustainability, and defence and security.

However, financial oversight is currently not sufficient to provide assurance as to how all public funding is spent within the institute, warns the report.

Jean Innes, chief executive of the Alan Turing Institute, said the organisation’s constitutional documents have been updated to reflect the requirements of the panel and the need for the governance structure to evolve.

And the panel’s recommendation for a further five years of funding provides a foundation for longer term planning to chart a path to delivering maximum impact, added Dr Innes.

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