Dame Ottoline Leyser to head UKRI

The Sainsbury Laboratory director will oversee a huge increase in R&D spending as head of UK’s main research funder

May 14, 2020
Picture credit: Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge.

The British plant biologist Dame Ottoline Leyser has been named the new chief executive officer of UK Research and Innovation.

Dame Ottoline, who is currently director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, will take over as head of the UK’s £7 billion-a-year research funding body at the end of June, it was announced on 14 May.

She succeeds Sir Mark Walport, who has led UKRI since it was created in April 2018 as an umbrella body for the country’s research councils.

The 55-year-old scientist, who held an academic post at the University of York before moving to Cambridge, is likely to oversee a huge increase in research spending after the government pledged in March’s budget to increase public investment in R&D to £22 billion by 2024-25, with spending on research representing 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2027.

Announcing Dame Ottoline’s appointment, the business secretary, Alok Sharma, said her arrival came at a “critical time for the UK”.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of science for our future, and UKRI has a vital role to play in this,” said Mr Sharma, who added that Dame Ottoline would “drive forward UKRI’s mission to create the great British companies of the future and help keep the UK at the cutting edge of global research and development”.

“I would like to thank Sir Mark Walport for his dedication to UKRI, leading its transformation programme and championing science, engineering and technology across the UK,” he added.

Dame Ottoline, who was appointed Dame Commander in the 2017 New Year Honours for her services to plant science, science in society, and equality and diversity in science, currently chairs the Royal Society’s Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee and serves on the Council for Science and Technology.

Amanda Solloway, the science minister, said she was “thrilled” by the appointment and would “look forward to working closely with her to drive forward our shared ambition to boost our world-leading research and development”.

Commenting on her new role, Dame Ottoline said she had “seen the power of genuinely collaborative cultures to catalyse the transformative thinking needed to create effective solutions”.

“I look forward to working with the UKRI team to ensure that the UK’s superb research and innovation system continues to work for everyone, by pioneering new partnerships, developing innovative funding models and strengthening international collaboration.”


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