In November 2020, a meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FTS) chaired by the Rt Hon Lord Willetts FRS, former Minister for Universities and Science, explored how the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) should develop, particularly in light of the challenges posed by Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting brought together the UKRI's Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Innovate UK Council member and Venture Partner at Merian Ventures Priya Guha, and DPAG's Head of Department and President of the Physiological Society Professor David Paterson.
Professor Paterson delivered a talk on "Assessing the real value of research", during which he noted that the UK needs to become better at bringing together the whole research landscape. This is particularly key in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic:
One of the challenges for UKRI is to set up a funding framework which can still focus on the reductive aspects of our science while not losing sight of the whole. COVID-19 is a multi-organ disease and this is classically where three different disciplines meet - physiology, neuroscience and immunology. To be able to set up funding structures in response mode to deal with this kind of challenge is very important. - Professor David Paterson
Professor Paterson also indicated two key issues that need addressing in the world of research funding for UK science: pressure on the Quality-related research (QR) funding support model, and whether the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is the framework to help distribution within QR, is fit for purpose. He also notes the inherent difficulties in assessing academic success, as while they are not mutually exclusive, the answers may be different in mission science and discovery science.
A summary of Professor Paterson's talk, together with talks from Dame Ottoline Leyster on "Creating a flexible, inter-connected and effective system" and Priya Guha on "Making the most of our innovative start-ups" can be read online in the latest issue of the FTS Journal. View the full issue.
Videos of the presentations from the 2020 meeting can be accessed on the FTS Events website.