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New Chief Executive of UKRI meets with MI Board

Vice-Chancellors from the Midlands most research-intensive universities have met Professor Dame Leyser, the new Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to discuss the region’s nationally leading research and transformation programmes.

Midlands Innovation (MI) undertakes 70% of all of Research & Development (R&D) undertaken by higher education institutions in the Midlands, and representatives from the eight MI partners - the universities; of Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick – met online with the new CEO of UKRI.  

The meeting was an opportunity for Midlands Innovation representatives to discuss the region’s ability to undertake innovative R&D to support the country’s drive to create jobs, support a green economic recovery, to level-up the Midlands with the rest of the country, and to meet the Government’s commitment to reach NET-Zero by 2050 - all of which can be supported through investing in the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), which is based in the Midlands and is the country’s largest green energy research partnership.

The discussion with Dame Leyser was also an opportunity to appraise the new CEO of UKRI on Midlands Innovation’s sector-leading TALENT programme – which aims to provide an academic blueprint for the advancement of the country’s current and future technical workforce that will be needed to support the Government’s aspirations for the country to become a ‘science super-power’ and to rapidly scale-up R&D investment.

The Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), a green energy research partnership involving the eight Midlands Innovation partner universities and the British Geological Survey, brings together nearly 1500 researchers, with a mission to deliver energy research innovation. With an initial funding of £60 million, via Innovate UK, ERA has delivered beyond the original expectation by creating 23 new green energy research facilities and utilising the initial public investment to leverage a further £120 million of industrial funding.

As part of the meeting, Dame Leyser heard from ERA Director, Professor Martin Freer. Professor Freer explained how the Energy Research Accelerator - backed by industry, policy makers, the Manufacturing Technology Centre and the Energy Systems and Connected Places Catapults - has identified many of the major national and regional energy challenges which need to be researched to provide solutions to the country’s future sustainable energy requirements. It has put forward a proposal to Government for consideration for funding as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review that the Chancellor announced will take place this autumn.

ERA Director, Professor Martin Freer, said: “By building on the facilities ERA has developed and the collective expertise across its public and private sector backers, we believe that we can provide significant future economic growth and stimulate the creation of new, high-skilled jobs by delivering £1.5 billion to the regional and UK economy and nearly 7,000 high quality jobs.”

ERA’s proposal, which has received backing from the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, the Midlands Engine, more than 40 businesses, LEPS, local authorities and several of the region’s MPs, can be read here: https://www.era.ac.uk/ERA-2-proposal

Also as part of the meeting, Dame Leyser heard from Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills and Strategy at The University of Nottingham, and co-lead for MI TALENT programme, which is a £4.99 million project led by Midlands Innovation to advance recognition and opportunity of higher education and research technical community.

TALENT is underpinned by a grant of more than £3 million from the Research England Development Fund. The remainder of the funding is being provided by the Midlands Innovation consortium members, as well as key partners including; the Science Council, Technician Commitment, Wellcome Trust, British Geological Survey, Rolls Royce plc, Unilever and Midlands Engine.

Technicians undertake an integral role in academic research, including supporting the UK’s scientific response to COVID-19, and enabling pioneering research and development to support the recovery of the UK economy and underpinning the country’s investment aspirations of increasing investment in R&D to become a ‘science superpower’.

TALENT, which is the UK’s largest investment programme in the development and progression of Higher Education and research technicians, is a four-year programme which is centred on the development of the technical community, piloting initiatives within the Midlands Innovation partnership before sharing learnings across the whole sector.  

As part of the programme, Midlands Innovation is undertaking the country’s first policy commission focused on the advancement of the sector’s 30,000 strong technical community, with leading experts across the higher education and research sector joining technical representatives as policy commissioners who will drive the commission forward.

The TALENT Policy Commission, Chaired by Professor Sir John Holman, is investigating the sector’s future need for technical talent, exploring government policy implications and the impact of increasing focus on collaboration with industry, before compiling a range of recommendations for the sector which it will publish in a national report that will provide new understanding on the UK’s technical skills needs of the future. 

As well as the national policy commission, the programme is developing innovative ways to deliver culture change to strengthen technical career opportunities, and a technical training programme which includes funding for technicians across the MI partnership to access staff development and training to address specific skills gaps.

Chair of Midlands Innovation and Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, Professor Alec Cameron, said: “I am delighted that Dame Leyser was able to meet with me and other Vice-Chancellors and senior representatives of Midlands Innovation.

“We were grateful to hear first-hand from Dame Leyser on her priorities for UKRI and the research councils, and also her vision for UK research. We share her aspirations and as a group of the Midlands’ most research-intensive universities, we believe we are uniquely placed and ready to support efforts to help the region’s, and indeed the country’s, economic recovery. Through undertaking further cutting-edge and collaborative research, we will support business innovation and regional productivity, and build on our reputation as delivering more business patents per pound of research funding than any other UK university alliance.”