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New UKRI Head Named

The University of Cambridge's Ottoline Leyser has been selected to lead UK Research and Innovation, ScienceInsider reports.

UKRI was established about two years ago following the passage of a controversial higher education reform bill. The agency has brought together the UK's seven research councils, Innovate UK, and Research England under one roof. At the time, critics had argued that the change wasn't necessary and would threaten researchers' independence. 

Leyser, a plant biologist, currently oversees Cambridge's Sainsbury Laboratory, which includes 13 research groups and about 130 scientists, ScienceInsider says. It adds that she also leads the Royal Society's Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee, is part of the prime minister's Council for Science and Technology, and has advocated for increased diversity in science.

As ScienceInsider also notes, she is taking over the agency at a difficult time. The UK is grappling with the effects of Brexit and what that might mean for research funding and researchers as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leyser is to succeed Mark Walport, the agency's first director, who was chosen for the position before the bill creating the agency was passed.