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What Is the UK Office For Talent?

In early July 2020, the UK Government published its Research & Development Roadmap which sets out a “vision to attract global talent, cut unnecessary bureaucracy and cement the UK as a world-leading science superpower.” The government press-release stated:

“The Research and Development Roadmap, published today, puts pursuing ground-breaking research, attracting global talent, and cutting unnecessary red tape at the forefront of our long-term plan to ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live, work and innovate. This will help to power up economic recovery and level up the UK.

£300 million will also be brought forwards to upgrade scientific infrastructure across the UK through the government’s World Class Labs funding scheme. This funding will enable research institutes and universities to make sure UK researchers have access to better lab equipment, digital resources, and to improve and maintain current research facilities.

The Roadmap will also support the government’s efforts to address global challenges from eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050 and developing new medicines, to improving life at home by strengthening national security and improving public services”.

One of the strands of the roadmap is to establish a brand-new ‘Office for Talent’, which is intended to streamline how the UK attracts the world’s best global science, research, and innovation talent.

What Exactly Is the Office for Talent?

The government has explained that the new Office for Talent will be a “team based in No. 10 with delivery teams across government departments.” As such, it sounds as though it will perform the role of a programme office, which will coordinate and make decisions on projects in various governmental departments. The announcement also explained that the new office will be getting to work “immediately” to focus on improving the immigration system, reducing barriers and improving the information available to top talent wishing to come to the UK.

According to the Guardian, the new office is likely part of efforts by Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, to centralise a greater proportion of key ministerial work within No 10.

What Has Been the Response to The New Office for Talent?

While many will reserve judgement until they see the output and benefit of the new No. 10 office. There does appear to be some signs of a positive reaction by the scientific community who were concerned about the impact of Brexit, and how this might damage the UK’s ability to coordinate research projects with institutions in the EU. In an interview in the Science Magazine, the plans to review the cost of visas for scientists and expand eligibility “would be welcome” according to Daniel Rathbone, assistant director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (a UK based research advocacy organisation).

As Rathbone says, from 1st January 2021 when the free movement ends, the science sector will be reliant on a visa system which is “significantly more expensive than global competitor countries.” He also says that widening eligibility criteria to include researchers in science in engineering, not just academia, will help attract more people. Given that the new R&D road map includes changes to the immigration system to allow Ph.D. students to work in the UK for three years, this will be seen as a positive step forward.

Striking a more pessimistic tone, speaking to the Guardian, Layla Moran, the Lib Dems’ spokesperson for education, expressed her view that the new office for talent was “nothing but compensating for the fact we will lose our valuable friends and neighbours help in the science community, especially if he pursues a no-deal Brexit”.

What Are the Other Aims of The New R&D Roadmap?

There is little doubt that the new R&D roadmap document is highly aspirational. It talks about aiming for “moon shots”; “We will use this opportunity to pursue ambitious new goals – the ‘moonshots’ that will define the next decade and beyond. By stretching our ambitions and engaging with and learning from people and communities all over the UK, we will create long-lasting economic and societal benefits for our country”. The roadmap describes the following aims:

  • Increase our investment in research, unlocking new discoveries, and applying research to solving our most pressing problems in government, industry, and across society.
  • Become world-class at securing the economic and social benefits from research.
  • Support entrepreneurs and start-ups and increase the flow of capital into firms carrying out R&D enabling them to scale up.
  • Attract, retain, and develop the talented, diverse people and teams that are essential to delivering the vision.
  • Take greater account of place-based outcomes in how we make decisions on R&D in the UK, ensuring that our R&D systems make their fullest contribution to our levelling up agenda.
  • Provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions.
  • Be a partner of choice for other world-leading research and innovation nations, as well as strengthening R&D partnerships with emerging and developing countries.
  • Engage in new and imaginative ways to ensure that our science, research, and innovation system is responsive to the needs and aspirations of our society.

As the new roadmap confirms, the government is aiming to “build a future which is greener, fairer, healthier, more resilient and more innovative than ever before” following the COVID-19 pandemic. And it sees R&D as core to how this will be achieved.

Final Words

Given the government’s questionable record on delivering when it matters, including in relation to COVID-19, exam results, and Brexit, many will be sceptical that the new R&D plan is nothing more than another example of the bold posturing that Boris Johnson is well known for. As we currently stand, with the economy struggling and at further risk due to COVID-19, and with the possibility of no-deal on Brexit becoming more real by the day, the UK needs a bold and stretching vision for the future. The key will now be to turn the plan into action in a fiscally responsible way. We will keep you updated as progress is made in the coming months and years.

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