On the 10th Anniversary of RCUK in China

By Dr Grace Lang, Director RCUK China.

Ten years is a fleeting moment in the history of the Research Councils but this Sunday is a special day. 17th September 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Research Councils’ China Office.

Dr Grace LangBetween 2007 and 2017, British researchers were awarded 17 Nobel prizes spanning Physics, Economics, Chemistry, Physiology and Medicine – a powerful demonstration of UK leadership in frontier science. In the same period, China’s R&D investment has grown remarkably, making it the world’s second largest investor in R&D. The same period has seen tremendous achievements emerge from UK-China research collaborations, in which RCUK China has played a significant role.

We have developed trust and friendship between the Research Councils and the major funders in China through bilateral dialogue. We have helped the UK researchers navigate China’s complex research landscape, aligned bilateral research priorities and delivered transparency and openness across all co-funded programmes. Alongside Innovate UK, we have piloted joint R&D initiatives involving partners in industry. We have strengthened UK-China researcher-to-researcher networks via workshops, summer schools and people exchanges.

More than £220 million has been co-invested by the Research Councils and Chinese partners, benefitting more than 150 academic institutions and over 120 businesses. The scope of our joint portfolio with China ranges from space science, energy and urbanization to agriculture and environmental sciences. We have boosted social and economic impact, from breakthroughs in sustainable manufacturing technology to unprecedented health policy reforms, with yet more examples emerging as our portfolio matures.

So much for the past decade, what of the future?

Research and innovation are well proven drivers of economic growth and future prosperity. With the formation of UKRI, we will work more closely with Innovate UK, Research England and partners in China at both the national and regional level to develop flexible funding to support UK-China collaboration covering a full spectrum of research, knowledge exchange and business-led innovation.

Research and innovation will also underpin global sustainability. We will continue to champion interdisciplinary approaches to tackling global challenges. We will continue to work with funding agencies in China as well as partners in Europe and other parts of the world to identify new shared challenges that inform sustainable development goals.

Research and innovation should also touch people’s daily lives. We will develop more activities to reach wider audiences to enhance involvement in research, boost public understanding of emerging scientific issues, and stimulate rigorous international debate.

The internationalisation of research and innovation improves outcomes and accelerates discovery. We will continue to strengthen networks and support for researcher exchanges through consortia and centre partnerships.

The RCUK China TeamThe pace of global change continues to increase, and the next decade will bring many fresh challenges. An ever-increasing number of researchers and innovators will need to cross borders, pool resources and focus their creative energies on shared goals. In 10 years, RCUK China has led in shaping the UK-China research relationship, and is now better positioned than ever to help drive this partnership forward.

In my role as Director of RCUK China, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my sincere and deep appreciation for the unfailing support of our funding partners in China and the research communities in both countries. Without your support, RCUK China would have little to celebrate this year!

Thank you for being part of our history and for being part of our shared future.

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.

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.

 

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…

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.

On the Road to Chandigarh – RCUK India Impact event

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India

Chandigarh, the shared Capital of the States of Punjab and Haryana, is a place that’s unique.  That’s because, very unusually for India, it is a planned city.  It was planned by Le Corbusier, the father of modernism in architecture.  So instead of the hustle and bustle of people, cows, cars, carts, tuk-tuks cramming the streets, you have instead miles and miles of tree lined boulevards and roundabouts – a bit like an Indian Milton Keynes really.   The BBC recently wrote that it might be the most perfect city in the world…

Illustration of the Research Council portfolio in Chandigarh, noting approximate Principal and selected Co-Investigator locations

Illustration of the Research Council portfolio in Chandigarh, noting approximate Principal and selected Co-Investigator locations

However, it is also a hub of research and innovation activity in India with a number of leading institutions of national importance such as Panjab University.  So with the Deputy British High Commission in Chandigarh, we recently held an event to show case the impact of RCUK-India research and innovation partnership as part of series of these kinds of events in India.  The aim was to engage with a wider group of people than we normally do and talk about our successful and burgeoning partnership and to build new networks at the State level.  It is important that we do this, not least as we are seeing in India a new partnership being established between the Centre and the States – termed Cooperative Federalism   – with more money and power being devolved to the States.

We had a full house at the event with a good mix of policy makers, academics, journalists, lawyers etc.  I think it reflected the great connection between the people of Punjab and Haryana with the UK.  The Panel, as well as myself, consisted of the Deputy High Commissioner, David Lelliott, Vivek Atray, Director of Industries and Commerce, Government of Punjab and Gokul Butail,  IT advisor to the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The Q&A session was particularly lively with plenty of questions about developing closer links at the State level.

From this event, and others like it, there is clearly a huge appetite in India for enhancing the collaboration on research and innovation with the UK on issues that are really important such as urbanisation, water and energy security, and health and well being.  I think that we are getting our message across that the UK is the best place to do research in the world.

City of Nawabs or Hub of Hi Tech Science- RCUK India Impact event in Hyderabad

By Dr Monika Sharma, Newton Fund Delivery Programme Manager.

Recently the RCUK India team landed in the city of Hyderabad, in Southern India, to showcase to the city the strong UK India research and innovations links.

Illustration of the Research Council portfolio in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), noting approximate Principal and selected Co-Investigator locations

Illustration of the Research Council portfolio in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), noting approximate Principal and selected Co-Investigator locations

Hyderabad is home to 13 Universities, lots of research centres specialising in the field of biomedical sciences, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals such as the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research and National Institute of Nutrition. The city hosts prestigious institutes like the Indian School of BusinessInternational Institute of Information Technology, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, and research  institutes carrying multidisciplinary research such as Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, National Geophysical Research Institute, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, and Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics.

There is a big hub of scientific, pharmaceutical and business community based in the city with strong links to British universities, consultancies or business tie-ups. RCUK India have many projects co- funded with the Indian government worth millions of rupees with researchers based at the University of Hyderabad, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Nonferrous Materials Technology Development Centre, Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, L V Prasad Eye Institute. These research projects have not only made international publications but also success stories with Impact.

We hosted in partnership with Andrew McAllister, Deputy High Commissioner Hyderabad an event where we celebrated the IMPACT of the UK-India research partnerships in presence of scientists, young researchers, senior academics, journalists, and senior policy makers.

Hyderabadblog2Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK reiterated to the audience that UK is the best place for research with top class research facilities and also UK is among one of the top counties for doing business and developing innovative technologies to address the global challenges.

We were pleased to hear the views of our chief guest, Dr Narsaiah Goud, MP Telangana state where he highlighted the potential of Hyderabad for research collaborations, as a business hub and his desire for new innovations in a plethora of research areas.

While we were winding up our very successful visit by savouring traditional Irani “chai” with Osmania biscuits in one of the cafes opposite to Charminar, it was a delight to see the way the landscape of the city has flourished amidst the iconic rocky landscapes: the imposing sophisticated HITEC City on one side, and, the historic and vibrant old city of the royal Nizams on the other.

Visit to Tagore’s Shantiniketan

By Geeny George Shaju, Communications and Programme Manager, RCUK India.

Team from IIT-M, explaining the project

Team from IIT-M, explaining the project

Soon after the RCUK Impact event in Kolkata, I along with Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India travelled to Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan to attend the final review meeting for an UK-India research project – Biomass and Concentrating Photovoltaic System for Rural and Urban Energy Bridge. Read more

Beginning in 2011, this four year project is part of the UK-India Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide (BURD) programme, funded by the RCUK Energy and Digital Economy programmes, and by the Indian Department of Science and Technology (DST).

University of Nottingham, University of Exeter and University of Leeds are the leading UK collaborators, and on the Indian side led by Visva-Bharati University and Indian Institute of Technology – Madras and Bombay.

The aim of the project was to develop new sustainable hybrid energy systems, integrating photovoltaic technology into biomass and waste power generations to create a low cost power system that could be managed and maintained by rural communities.

Group photo of researchers, students and funders

Group photo of researchers, students and funders

On arrival we were taken to the project site, which is a place close to the university campus and a Santhal (tribal village), with over 80 households. Researchers and students working on this project explained the functionality of the project and how the BioCPV was providing electricity to the village community.

After the site visit, research teams and funders congregated to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of this project. A key outcome of this joint project has been to provide reliable electricity to the rural households, school, community and even the local medical centre. This has enabled improved facilities for education and health, an improved lifestyle and a reduction in greenhouse emission, improving overall sustainability within the village.

MoU being handed over

MoU being handed over

The highlight of the meeting was handing over of the management of the BioCPV to the village community through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This agreement is very important as it gives the community ownership and empowers them for a better tomorrow. It also demonstrates that new sustainable technologies can be designed to be accessible and maintainable by local communities, something which is incredibly important for ‘off grid’ settlements.

Tagore’s Shantiniketan, (which means ‘abode of peace’) is known as a centre of knowledge and creativity. This visit was a perfect illustration of joint knowledge, creativity and more.

See more pictures from the visit here.

RCUK India ‘Impact’ event in the City of Joy – Kolkata

By Geeny George Shaju, RCUK India Communications and Programme Manager.

RCUK India hosted a series of research and innovation roadshows across several research intensive cities in India, one of them in Kolkata, West Bengal.

(L-R): Sukanya Kumar-Sinha; Geeny George Shaju; Dr Nafees Meah from RCUK India, Mr Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commission; Ms Reena Venkatraman Additional Chief Secretary DST; Mr Aloke Mookherjea Chairman Innovation Taskforce CII (EA) and Prof Anuradha Lohia VC Presidency University

Attendees at the impact event.

Kolkata is one of the four metropolitan cities in India, and the only one that I had not visited, so I was all zest up for this. Coincidentally the entire city of Kolkata was also excited, oh not for the event (so I wish) but for a WT20 cricket match between India and Pakistan also in Kolkata.

The impact event was organised in partnership with the British Deputy High Commission, Kolkata, with an aim to showcase the UK-India research partnership and its impact. Kolkata has many top universities, research and engineering institutes, and there are five existing UK-India research projects running in West Bengal. This event was step forward to tell people about our research partnerships and build new networks at the state level.

There was an excellent attendance by academics, senior policy makers, industrial leads, local press. Key panel members at the event were Mr Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commissioner, Kolkata; Ms Reena Venkatraman, Additional Chief Secretary DST; Mr Aloke Mookherjea, Chairman Innovation Taskforce CII (EA) and Prof Anuradha Lohia, Vice-Chancellor Presidency University.

Each of the panel members shared their views on international research, and how it is best delivered when in partnership. Prof Lohia, emphasised the need to incorporate multi-disciplinary approach and enhance funding to research in humanities and social sciences.

Famous (Hindustan Ambassador taxis in its bright yellow

Famous (Hindustan Ambassador) taxis in its bright yellow

The city of Kolkata is well known for its quest for knowledge and passion for learning. Panel members and guests were overwhelmed by the areas of research covered by the UK-India partnership, how it is striving to INSPIRE CHANGE. I was delighted that the event was a success and my first visit wants me to come back soon to this amazing city. And joining my happiness was the entire city, celebrating India’s win in the cricket match!