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Walport Selected for UKRI

Mark Walport, the current chief scientific advisor to the UK government, is to head up the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), ScienceInsider reports.

UKRI, which is part of a controversial higher education reform bill that's expected to pass Parliament later this year, would oversee the seven research councils plus Innovate UK and portions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, ScienceInsider adds. All together, the seven research agencies handle £6 billion (US$ 7.5 billion) in research grants and institutional funding, it notes.

While Royal Society President Venki Ramakrishnan says in a statement that the selection of Walport to head up the organization is "excellent news," he and others are still concerned about how UKRI will affect the research councils. "One hopes that [Walport] will be mindful of the concerns about how this unwieldy conglomerate will operate, and the widespread view that the individual research councils should not be downgraded," University of Cambridge astronomer Martin Rees adds. 

ScienceInsider notes that Walport appears cognizant of these worries. In an open letter to the councils, he writes that the "autonomy of individual Councils" needs to be maintained. "UKRI will support the excellent work of the nine councils, but it will also challenge them to ensure that the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts," he adds.