Treasury heavyweight John Kingman to lead government’s new research institute

Treasury's second permanent secretary to set up new organisation bringing together research councils, in bid to support growth and cross-disciplinary research

By Suzannah Brecknell

17 May 2016

The Treasury's acting permanent secretary John Kingman is to help set up a new body bringing together Britain's research councils, Innovate UK, and the research and innovation functions of the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE).

The new organisation, dubbed UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will distribute all public funding for research – currently over £6bn per year – and will be set up by Kingman, who is the Treasury's second perm sec and is currently leading the department on an interim basis before Tom Scholar takes the reins.

Kingman will act as an interim chair while UKRI is established, according to the Financial Times, but in the long-term the organisation is expected to be led by scientists.

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Universities and science minister Jo Johnson said: “As someone who has overseen five spending reviews which prioritised science, John is uniquely placed to set up this new organisation.”

Johnson said Kingman understood “how to best maximise the value of our investment in research and innovation for the economy and society”.

Plans to create UKRI were set out in a white paper published by the business department this week, with the document also proposing new rules that will make it easier for institutions to gain degree-awarding powers, and allow universities to raise fees above £9,000 per year if they can demonstrate high quality teaching.

The UKRI board will manage a “common research fund” to support research with a cross disciplinary impact, the white paper says, while the seven existing research councils, Innovate UK and some functions of HEFCE will be moved into nine autonomous councils within UKRI, with responsibility to lead strategy and funding in their own disciplines.

The white paper also announced plans to replace HEFCE with a new market regulator, the Office for Students (OfS).

OfS and UKRI will be required by law to share relevant data and work together on areas of common interest, including the financial sustainability of the UK’s higher education sector.

The OfS will be a “consumer focused market regulator” of all registered HE providers, the white paper says, and will also distribute grant funding to eligible institutions. It will be primarily funded by registration fees from HE providers.

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