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Christopher Kennard

It has been busy two weeks since I took over as Head of the Medical Sciences Division; starting with the good news that Novo Nordisk will establish a new research centre here in Oxford and ending on Friday with the unexpected immediate closure of the Tinbergen Building. This is a extremely difficult time for all the Experimental Psychology and Zoology staff and students, and I know you will do all you can to support our displaced colleagues over the next few months.

Since taking over the reins, I have been shuttling between our 4 campuses on fact finding visits to meet with all the departmental heads to learn about the many activities in their Departments, their concerns, and to discuss with them how our Divisional team can assist in achieving their Departmental goals.  We are really fortunate to have such an excellent group of heads, each totally committed to moving their departments on to greater success.

The highlight of the past fortnight was undoubtedly the announcement of the decision by the Danish Pharmaceutical Company, Novo Nordisk to establish a new research centre, located in the middle of the Old Road Campus in the Bio-escalator building – currently a large hole alongside the Green building but now with a large crane towering over it indicating that building work is underway. Their investment of £115 million will be part of a collaboration with researchers in MSD to devise innovative approaches for treating type 2 diabetes, having recognised that Oxford has some of the best researchers in the world in this field. Being embedded in a university campus, with the opportunities for daily two way interactions, is surely a better approach than having pharma companies off campus, miles away in a science park as occurs in some other universities.

On the teaching front, our medical students have just taken their final examinations receiving spectacularly excellent results. The General Medical Council (GMC) has just opened a consultation on their proposed Medical Licensing Agreement  (MLA), aimed at creating a simple, objective demonstration that those applying for a license to practise medicine in the UK can meet a common standard for safe practice.  As the GMC states the public would be astonished to learn that there wasn’t a single standard of entry to the UK medical register and no uniform assessment to test skills, competence and quality of doctors, both home grown and from overseas, seeking to practise in the UK.  This is undoubtedly true, but one hopes the desire to meet a common standard will not interfere with the heterogeneity of courses on offer across all the UK medical schools.   

This week the Government announced that Professor Sir Mark Walport, the current Governement Chief Scientific Advisor and previously Director of the Wellcome Trust, has been appointed as the first CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the new research and funding organisation being established following Sir Paul Nurse’s review of the research councils.  UKRI will bring together, under a single umbrella, the seven research councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England, to create “the world’s leading research and innovation funding agency”. As the PM said in her recent Lancaster House speech, UKRI will be used to create a research funding system greater than the sum of its parts. So what is this likely to mean for all our MSD researchers?  Look for more cross-council funding opportunities, more funding for multidisciplinary research and greater incentives to work with industry. Be assured that Sir Mark will be proactive in his work with the research councils so we will need to keep on our toes to ensure we are able to respond rapidly to new initiatives. 

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Richard Cornall, who has decided to step down from the duties of Deputy Head of Division (Finance and Physical Capital) at the end of his two-year term.  The Division owes Richard a great debt of gratitude for all his work as the Deputy Head of Division.  He has had oversight of all the Division’s capital projects, none of which have been straightforward; he has ensured that the Division’s finances have met the University’s targets; he has undertaken a huge piece of very valuable work on Departmental strategic planning with each of the Heads of Departments; and in addition has undertaken many other activities for the Division – and all this after overseeing the Division’s REF2014 submission – another huge task.  His friendly, rigorous approach to all these activities has been invaluable and will be missed, and I am delighted that he has agreed to continue contributing to some areas of Divisional planning. 

I very much look forward to working with you all over the coming months.