Sir Mark Walport calls for more scientists to work in policymaking roles

Written by Tamsin Rutter on 19 February 2018 in News

Former chief scientific adviser to government has warned tough post-Brexit migration rules could hamper scientific research

Sir Mark Walport, who left his Whitehall post in September 2017. Credit: David Barrett

Top government scientist Sir Mark Walport has called for more scientists to be hired to policymaking roles.

The former chief scientific adviser to government, and incoming chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which will oversee all government spending on research, has also warned that overly restrictive curbs on freedom of movement after Britain leaves the EU could harm the UK’s status as a global scientific centre.

He told The Sunday Times yesterday that all good labs have researchers from all over the world and scientists from the UK and the EU should therefore retain the ability to move freely after Brexit.


Walport, who was the government's chief scientific adviser between 2013 and 2017, said he hoped post-Brexit Britain would remain involved in EU research programmes. Exclusion could see the UK’s scientific community come up against funding challenges.

“Research is global and international,” he said. “At the end of the day the negotiation [with the EU] is above my pay grade… but the hope of the government is that we can continue to have a very strong association.”

Walport headed up the Government Office for Science between 2013 and 2017, when he introduced a fast-track graduate programme to recruit young scientists into the civil service. He has now said he also wants to see more scientists involved in policy, including seeking to become MPs, who rarely have scientific backgrounds.

“We want diversity of talents in research and we want diversity in the world of politics as well,” he told The Sunday Times.

Walport also defended the creation of UKRI, which brings together nine research bodies with a combined budget of £6bn. He said such centralisation was necessary to avoid silos and ensure challenges are tackled by scientists in multi-disciplinary teams.

As chief scientific adviser, Walport commissioned a review of the UK’s research councils which advocated the creation of UKRI to oversee their activities.

About the author

Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World and tweets as @TamsinRutter

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