UKRI appoint Professor Christopher Smith as International Champion

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has appointed Professor Christopher Smith as the new UKRI International Champion.

Professor Smith is Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and has substantial international experience including a tenure as director of a leading UK research institute overseas.

He will take up the role at the end of March 2021. It is a pivotal time for international research and innovation, with the UK forging new relationships in Europe and beyond, and as science and innovation continues to fight the global pandemic.

Continuing outstanding work

Professor Smith succeeds Professor Andrew Thompson CBE who has served as UKRI’s International Champion since April 2018. Professor Thompson returns to his post full-time as Professor of Global and Imperial History at the University of Oxford.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, said:

I am honoured to have been chosen for this distinguished role, and acknowledge Andrew Thompson’s enormous contribution.

Only when we break down the barriers to international research and embrace the benefits of collaboration can we reach our full potential for science and innovation.

We live in a global society in which there is greater potential than ever to bring diverse minds together to realise new perspectives and inspire truly world changing research.

Strengthening relationships across the globe

During his time as UKRI International Champion, Professor Thompson has led international research efforts. This has strengthened relationships between research communities across the globe and advanced UKRI’s partnerships with other national research funding agencies.

This includes Professor Thompson’s responsibility for:

  • the Newton Fund
  • the Global Challenges Research Fund
  • the Fund for International Collaboration.


  • the development of a range of new bilateral partnerships and programmes with other leading research funding agencies
  • the preparations of leaving the European Union and helping to secure the UK’s association to Horizon Europe
  • the co-hosting of the Global Research Council with the South African National Research Foundation in 2021.

Global problems, thinking and responses

Professor Andrew Thompson CBE, UKRI’s International Champion, said:

As a society we face an array of global problems that demand global thinking and global responses international, from COVID19 and climate change, protracted conflict and mass migration, to water security and famine.

It has been an honour to lead UKRI’s efforts to bring the best minds from across the world together to develop innovative solutions to these problems and to improve the lives of people living in the UK and overseas.

Professor Christopher Smith will lead a team of highly dedicated staff who are an invaluable asset to UKRI’s future international ambitions and aspirations.

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

I am delighted that Professor Christopher Smith is taking up the role of International Champion for UKRI.

Research and innovation are truly international endeavours, requiring collaboration across borders to address global challenges. Professor Smith brings a wealth of experience, which will be invaluable to UKRI’s international portfolio.

I would like to thank Professor Andrew Thompson for his leadership and for the outstanding contributions he has made to UKRI’s international research and innovation work.

Supporting international collaboration

The UK has one of the world’s best research and innovation landscapes and UKRI is dedicated to supporting this by facilitating partnerships between the UK and leading international organisations and researchers.

When we combine our existing strengths with those of our international colleagues. we enhance the economic and societal impact of our research.

The work of UKRI’s international team, alongside Professor Smith’s role as UKRI’s International Champion, will help realise UKRI’s ambition to be the international partner of choice for world-leading research and innovation.

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