A more than Logical Partnership

By Daniel Shah, Director, RCUK India.

I’m excited – about India, about UK-India research and innovation, and about what we can do together. The relationship is increasingly important and dynamic and I feel privileged to have the chance to be part of something that can make such a difference to both peoples.

Humayun’s tomb, Delhi INDIA

India is finding a renewed place in the world – as one of the fastest growing large economies, a global player, and growing a research power. Data from DST show academic outputs have been increasing by almost 14% a year, and the very best articles by 20%, faster than any other major research country. With the worlds’ largest youth population, a high proportion of the next generation of great researchers, creative innovators and business leaders are here. What impresses me most is that India has both – incredible diversity and stunning scale.

In my last role, I led the international policy work of Universities UK International, the membership body for UK universities, working on research and higher education policy across the whole world. Before that I worked on international and EU strategy for the Russell Group of universities, on research funding and university-business interactions for the UK Government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills (now BEIS), and in social enterprise. Looking out from Britain at the world, I felt that if you wanted to make a difference, India is the place to go to. (That it is also the place to go for the world’s best vegetarian food, helps!)

As a world leader in research and innovation, the UK has a lot to offer in return. With 1% of the world’s population we are second in top cited academic articles, Nobel prizes, and international students only to the USA. We produce more papers per pound than any large research base. I’m proud that we are an open minded and international research community: with half of the ten most international universities, one in four academics hailing from outside the UK, and one in two articles having an international co-author.  We sit at the heart of global networks of ideas, 60% of Indian Nobel laureates have links to the UK. For a global Britain, research and innovation are central to our place in the world of technology, prosperity and influence.

Rashtrapati Bhavan (Official Residence of the President of India) during the Beating the Retreat Ceremony, Delhi INDIA

In recognition of this growing importance of research and innovation, the UK Government plans to create UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a single strategic research and innovation funding body, which will build on the strengths and values of the current system. UKRI will, subject to legislation, incorporate the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research funding and knowledge exchange parts of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This will provide a greater focus on as inter-disciplinary research and a strengthened voice on the global stage. Professor Sir Mark Walport, currently the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, will be appointed as Chief Executive Designate of UKRI. Sir Mark knows India well, from his time as Director of the Wellcome Trust

, as chair of the UK-India Science and Innovation Policy Dialogue and, closer to home for us as the keynote speaker at RCUK India’s 5th anniversary events in 2013.

Part of the Prime Minister’s Plan for Britain is for the UK to be “one of the best places in the world for science and innovation”. She said “we will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to better understand, and make better, the world in which we live.” One of the first pillars in the UK’s Industrial strategy is investing in science, research & innovation. As Sir Mark said, “The government has put its money where its mouth is with the announcement of £4.7 billion of new R&D funding between now and 2021”.

The UK Research Councils and Indian funders are building on many years of collaboration, and our nations are increasing investment in the relationship, including through the Newton-Bhabha Fund (which will rise to £20m per year by 2021). Many new programmes like air pollution and health, water quality, biotech and civil nuclear were announced during Prime Minister May’s first major international visit last November. These partnerships highlight how so many of our shared challenges also contribute to Global Goals, for example in understanding megacities, making rice more resilient to unpredictable water, developing simple devices to measure blood pressure to save pregnant women’s lives or technology for smarter, cheaper solar cells to boost affordable access to clean energy. In research we are all international in that we build on the labours of scholars from many places. International students came to India centuries before the Common Era, but the pace of change means that to remain at the cutting edge collaboration is no longer optional.

The iconic red phone box at an EU event in Hyderabad INDIA

In the nine years since the RCUK India office opened, Research Councils, Indian partners and third parties have between them invested over £200m into high-impact joint research programmes with over 300 researchers and over 90 industrial partners. The UK is now India’s second largest collaborator by co-authorship and the benefits are shared across society from Dundee to Delhi, Manchester to Mumbai, and Birmingham to Bangalore.

India and the UK share democracy and a well-founded respect for the important things in life like tea, literature and cricket: we are a logical partnership. For me personally it is also biological and emotional. As a child of both Indian and British parents, I feel I have a vested interest in our success together. I’m inspired by the changes we have already made and the warmth of the greeting I’ve enjoyed.

There is so much we can do, I am eager to see just how much we can achieve together. As Prime Minister Modi said “I believe that India and the UK must continue to nurture and support an ecosystem of high quality fundamental research to pave the way for joint technology development that can address global challenges.” I look forward keenly to getting to know India better, to a stronger relationship, and to making a difference.

UK-India Research Collaboration on Water Quality

By Dr Monika Sharma, Newton Fund Delivery Programme Manager

Majority of the earth surface is covered with water (~71%) and it serves as one of the most vital component for all the life forms. Water on Earth moves continually through the cycle of evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, reaching the sea and escaping into the streams, lakes, and oceans.

India is rich in water resources, being endowed with a network of rivers and blessed with snow cover in the Himalayan range that can meet a variety of water requirements of the country. However, with the rapid increase in the population, and the need to meet the increasing demands of irrigation, human and industrial consumption, the available water resources in many parts of the country are getting depleted and the water quality has deteriorated. Indian rivers are polluted due to the discharge of untreated sewage and industrial effluents.

Poor water quality poses a serious threat to Indian economy where over one lakh people die of water-borne diseases annually and majority of people have no access to safe drinking water. With initiatives like “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission)” and “Smart Cities Mission” where the various Indian ministries have joined hands to address the major challenges like cleaning the Indian rivers, improved sanitary conditions for the rural and urban India, better Industrial and sewage waste management and efforts to tackle air pollution, to name a few.

The day is not far when India will be smart and swachh enough to offer you a choice between “tap water” or “bottled water” when you dine out in a fancy Indian restaurant or cook in a modular Indian kitchen or for that matter buying a bottle of water will not be a compulsion in trains /planes and the holy dip in Ganga will be as rejuvenating as it is meant to be.

Season’s Greetings from the Research Councils!

By Claire Lane, RCUK Communications Officer

Brussel SproutsIt’s that time of year where we are all buying and wrapping presents whilst trudging round supermarkets finding the last turkey on the shelf. So, we at the Research Councils, thought we would give you a valid excuse to put the sticky tape to one side, stop chasing that elusive bag of sprouts, put the kettle on and take a well-earned break to celebrate with us, this year’s great stories.

In January, we released a study that showed the benefit of blocking brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s. It was originally thought that Alzheimer’s disease disturbs the brain’s immune response, but this latest study adds to evidence that swelling in the brain can advance the development of the disease. The findings suggest that by reducing this swelling the progression of the disease could be halted.

In March, we asked what is life like now, for the British generation born in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The finding let us about housing and education, to social mobility, health and religion. If we take religion the comparison between men and women opinions on whether they believe in God and life after death – 60 per cent of the women but only 35 per cent of the men believe in life after death. Similarly, more than half (54 per cent) of the men surveyed said they were atheists or agnostics, compared to only a third (34 per cent) of the women. Read more in  Thatcher’s children: the lives of Generation X.

In April, we wanted you to Walk Shakespeare’s London. When thinking of Shakespeare in London, we automatically think of the Globe Theatre, but the researchers also wanted us all to know about The Rose and other theatres from the period. Did you know that London’s first purpose built theatre is in Shoreditch known, simply as The Theatre, was built in 1576? The venue was taken down in 1598 and transported south of the Thames to form the basis of The Globe. Take a tour with their interactive map that brings Elizabethan London’s theatre land to life.

In May, the Natural Environment Research Council announced the name of their new Polar research Ship in honour of Sir David Attenborough Following a call for suggestions that sparked global interest, the new £200m state-of-the-art polar research ship is to be named after world-renowned naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. It was selected as a name that captures the ship’s scientific mission and celebrates the broadcaster’s contribution to natural science

In July, we were also  solving a plant-based Rubik’s cube puzzle as researcher discovered a key “twist” in a Rubik’s cube-like plant puzzle. Piecing together the puzzle of how some compounds are made in plants could have enormous potential for developing new and improved therapies.

In October, we announced that the self-driving car made its public debut following their support, there was significant media interest as a self-driving car was trialled in public for the first time in the UK. Media including the BBC, ITV and Sky filmed the car as it made its way around a 1km-long route in trials organised in Milton Keynes by the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC).

In November, we announced pioneering laser technology that could boost the performance of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to new levels of efficiency and therefore helping to unlock some of science’s greatest mysteries going back to the `Big Bang’. The laser technology changes the surface of metals and reduced the ‘electron cloud’.  This cloud of negative particles under certain conditions may degrade the performance of the primary proton beams that circulate in the accelerator, which is central to its core experiments. The technology could have widespread implications and applications in satellite and aerospace technologies.

We hope you enjoyed your break. Merry Christmas from all at the Research Councils.

Gateway to Research downloading outcome information via the CSV functionality

We have listened to our users (via the survey) and have now included the ability to download outcome information using the CSV functionality on the RCUK Gateway to Research. Similar to other result pages, users will now be able to click on the CSV button from an individual outcome type result page and download the information. It is not possible to download outcome data across different types in single download due to the large variance in field types between outcomes.

Please let us know if you have found this latest functionality useful using gateway@rcuk.ac.uk to send us your feedback.

RCUK India Impact Event in Mumbai

By Chhavi Jain, Administrative officer, RCUK India.

Recently RCUK India in partnership with the British Deputy High Commission, Mumbai hosted a Research and Innovation Roadshow in Mumbai as part its impact event series showcasing the strong UK-India research partnership.

Mumbai presents its people a bustling commercial life along with a colossal film industry, often called the ‘City of Hopes & Dreams’, being center of entertainment with Bollywood- the largest film industry of India and the financial hub of India. The city also offers much for research and innovation, with a number of leading institutions such as Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Bombay and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). In short there is so much to this city!

The aim of the event was to reach out to a wide group of people and to build new networks within the State of Maharashtra. There was attendance by academics, policy makers, industrial leads, scientists & young researchers. The panel members at the event were Mr Kumar Iyer, British Deputy High Commissioner, Mumbai; Prof Prakash C Ghosh, Associate Professor, IIT-Bombay, , Mr Vijay Srirangan, Director General, Bombay Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK reiterated to the audience that UK is the one of best places in the world for research with top class facilities and a commitment to developing innovative solutions that will help address global challenges. Projects highlighted included a Kem Hospital Pune & University of Southampton collaboration which is clinically trialing use of vitamin B12 both pre and during pregnancy to help avoid adverse foetal programming, particularly in relation to diabetics.

The interest in our impact roadshows continues to demonstrate the huge appetite in India for an enhanced collaboration in innovative high-quality research which delivers impact.

 

Building a new grants service

By Sarah Townsend, Head of Grants Policy – This article originally appeared in The Protagonist.

It’s a feeling we have all experienced when using online services. It is that feeling of frustration caused by the fact that the system is too clunky, the screen is too cluttered, we are being asked too many questions or we have had to enter data multiple times. I’m sure that people have felt that way when applying to the Research Councils for a grant and that’s something we want to tackle.

Research Councils are in the midst of a major project to redesign our grants service. This is not only a great opportunity to replace our outdated technology but we are also using the opportunity to look at the way we do grant funding across Research Councils and ask ourselves what could we do better. Where can we make things simpler? Are there ways to make our policies and processes more streamlined? We want to improve the service for applicants and other users, both internal and external.

GOODBYE JE-S

Our current grants system – the joint electronic submission service (Je-S) – is reaching the end of its useful life and we know that researchers love it and hate it in equal measures. Ahead for its time when it was introduced, it is now like a well-worn and well-loved pair of slippers – we know that it will be a wrench for some when our new service comes online.

The good news is that the new service will enable us to deliver some really important improvements for the community such as greater interoperability with research organisations’ systems. Within the Higher Education sector there are many systems and data that, at the moment, do not communicate with each other. This means that information cannot flow through these different systems and users have to enter the same information multiple times.

The new grants service will push us farther forward by helping us achieve a more connected infrastructure and cut inefficiencies for everyone using the service. In future, we want to be able to reuse information that already exists in other systems wherever possible to reduce the amount of time applicants spend filling in a grant application. We also want to have simpler guidance and only ask for information that we actually need.

WELCOME TO THE NEW GRANTS SERVICE INTERFACE

The new grants service is being developed with user needs at the front of everyone’s minds. To give you some insight into how this works, the user research team has been finding out what users like you want the grants service to do. They have spoken to applicants, peer reviewers, panel members, research organisation administrators and Research Council staff. Then they tell the service designers what they discovered. The service designers are bringing these users’ needs to life throughout the user journey).

Moreover, whilst the grants service will be hosted on the ac.uk domain, the screens are based on the gov.uk platform. Therefore, the new grants service will look and feel a lot like this platform. If you have taxed your vehicle or shared your driving license information in the last few years, chances are you will have already used a gov.

uk service, and like applying to tax your vehicle, we expect the new grants service to be very intuitive to use. Hopefully, you will feel right at home.

Also, we have great news for applicants applying to Research Councils and Innovate UK: we are developing a single unified grants service! This means you have a very similar experience when applying to both organisations.

SO WHERE ARE WE NOW?

A panel of government digital service assessors recently reviewed the project and has given us a pass on the alpha stage. So what does that mean? During the alpha stage of the project the team built prototypes to meet some key user needs and iterated those through user feedback. They also scoped what the end-to-end service would look like.

So what’s next? Having passed this assessment the team can now progress into the beta stage. In this stage the team will extend those early prototypes into a full end-to-end prototype and test with users. Initially, this will be a private beta, which means that access will be restricted rather than available to all. The aim is to be able to run a small number of funding opportunities through the new service in 2017 and to have transitioned fully in 2018. Throughout the development we will continue to test with users. The work is done in very small chunks with continual iteration based on the feedback received. If you want to know more you can sign up to our mailing list http://eepurl.com/bXNziH and check out the information available on the RCUK website www.rcuk. ac.uk/funding/2017update.

 

 

Goodbye from Dr Nafees Meah

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India

फिर मिलेंगे    (See you later….)

Time has just zipped by and I can’t believe that I am leaving RCUK India office! It has been a great privilege and a lot of fun to be at the helm of RCUK India over the past four years.  Soon after I arrived in India, I wrote a blog about my first impressions.  What struck me then was the palpable sense that India was on the move.  That impression is even stronger four years later – the buzz and the sense of new opportunities has only grown.

Team RCUK India

Team RCUK India

I said then that I was a firm believer in the appliance of science to tackle problems of water and energy access, rapid urbanisation and poverty and, I am very pleased to say, that we have now a substantial portfolio of research and innovation projects addressing these issues.  Our USP in RCUK India has been to work as partners in relationships with our Indian colleagues that are based on mutual trust and confidence.  My proudest achievement has been to have contributed to a real renaissance in the research and innovation partnership between UK and India – the oldest and the largest democracies in the world.

I truly believe that we have achieved a great deal together and what we have done will make a big difference.  I want to thank the best team that I have ever worked with: Sukanya Kumar-Sinha, Geeny George Shaju, Andrew Telford, Chhavi Jain and Monika Sharma.  A lot of what has been achieved has been due to their effort. They have been brilliant.

As we look forward, it is not too difficult to predict that the trade partnership with India will become even more important to the UK following the EU referendum vote.  That may be the silver lining.  But it is crucial that we maintain a strong, long term partnership across a broad range of issues and, whilst trade is important, we do not reduce the measure of our abiding relationship to that metric alone.

It has been a great experience to work as part of the British High Commission family in New Delhi.  I very much hope that my successor, Daniel Shah, has an equally rewarding time as the new Director of RCUK India.   I wish him well.

As for me and my family, we will be starting a new adventure in India – outside the warm embrace of the British High Commission in Delhi.  I shall be taking up new appointment as the South Asia Representative of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).  My office will be in Delhi so I hope that friends in the Research Councils will look me up when you are in this part of the world.  My door will be always open…

Gateway to Research – 2016 Research Outcomes data

The 2016 outcomes data submitted in Researchfish during the submission period (1 February – 10 March 2016) has now been published on Gateway to Research.

The submission rate for researchers was 95% and for students it was 78% with over 346,000 new attributions made. RCUK would like to thank the research organisations, researchers and students for their efforts during the 2016 submission period.

 

Visit http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/ to view the latest published data.

UK-India research collaboration to understand the Indian monsoon

By Dr Monika Sharma, Newton Fund Delivery Programme Manager.

One of the many unique things about India is its summer monsoon, a weather phenomenon which is one of the oldest, and much awaited patterns every year beginning June through September.

Monsoon has a distinct place in the day–to-day lives of Indians, from Bollywood to the Indian kitchens. There are dedicated rain songs in many Indian movies showing overjoyed love birds dancing around, welcoming and enjoying the rain. Not only does the monsoon make people happy, but they even have special snacks and savouries for these rainy months. This shows the magnitude to which monsoon is loved and anticipated in India.

The Indian economy is vitally linked with the monsoon because of its water resources. A large part of the country (around a billion people) gets more than 80% of the annual rainfall during these four months.

Group picture with Minister Vardhan

Group picture with Minister Vardhan

However, on the flip side, the heavy monsoon rain is also responsible for creating unpleasant situations like long traffic jams, clogged roads or unfortunate flash floods. This year, monsoon floods hit the northeastern Indian state of Assam, killing several people and forcing many more to leave their homes.  In 2013, the monsoon advanced particularly rapidly over northern India, causing devastating damage while, in 2009, prolonged breaks led to a severe shortage of rainfall and poor harvests.

In short, the only thing which doesn’t go well with Indian monsoon is its unpredictability hence affecting day-to-day life in general and lives of poor farmers in particular.

To have a better understanding of the physical processes of the monsoon, the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), India the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK and the UK Met Office have joined hands under a research programme called The Drivers of Variability in the South Asian Monsoon, with a combined investment of about £11.4 million.

The modified BAe 146-301 large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (the ARA) takes off

The modified BAe 146-301 large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (the ARA) takes off

Under this programme, the UK’s Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) was brought to India to be used as a research facility for the team of UK and Indian researchers studying atmospheric measurements for better predictability of monsoon patterns between May and July 2016. The ARA is a modified BAe 146-301 and provides a world leading platform for atmospheric measurements. It is managed by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) which is a collaborative operation between NERC, Met Office and is based at Cranfield University. FAAM plans and executes science campaigns on behalf of the both the NERC scientific community and the Met Office. It has completed nearly 1000 science missions in over 30 countries. This is its first mission in India.

Under this partnership, UK and Indian scientists will have access to this state- of -the -art facility that will help gain in-depth knowledge of the South Asian monsoon and their improved representation in weather and climate models. In addition to the FAAM facility, this partnership also used Indian research ships (Sindhu Sadhana) and underwater marine robots to take measurements in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, south east of India.

For me, a personal highlight was when as part of this observational campaign, I boarded this flight on 11th July, along with Dr Harsh Vardhan (Union Minister of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences), Dr Alexander Evans (British Deputy High Commissioner), Dr M. Rajeevan (Secretary to the Government of India, MoES), and researchers involved in the projects. We agreed that this was a unique UK-India research partnership on the monsoon studies, and were absolutely thrilled by the experience.

Gate way to Research – Innovate UK Project Participant values

The most recent Gateway to Research system release publishes the breakdown of Innovate UK’s project participant values. This new information can be found on the Organisation tab of Innovate UK projects only.

Two new columns are being displayed called, ‘Project Cost’ and ‘Grant Offer’. The values being published under these headings are defined as follows:

  • Project Cost: Total Cost of Project including Grant Values and Project Participant Contributions
  • Grant Offer: Total Grant issued to each Project Participant

The API, GtR-2, has been updated to version 4. This now includes the outcome and project participant information.