New £5 million-plus training centre will produce the food experts of tomorrow

  • 16
  • OCT
  • 2020

A consortium of nine UK universities and research institutes, including Rothamsted, are to create a joint PhD training centre focused on developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems experts.

Part of £47.5 million of UK Government funding earmarked to transform the UK’s food chains, the £5 million Centre for Doctoral Training will be led from the National Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich.

Dr Mark Wilkinson, one of the team of Rothamsted Research scientists involved, said World Food Day was a fitting time to announce the ‘exciting’ partnership.

“Food systems are complex networks of people and activities that are responsible for ensuring that we all have safe, healthy and affordable food every day. For a sustainable food future, however, we will need cross disciplinary research that can approach the multiple challenges our production systems face from all angles.

“We are delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to collaborate with such a variety of partners in the development of new talent to help deliver greater impact from our agricultural science.”

Called the ‘Partnership for Sustainable Food Future – Centre for Doctoral Training’, alongside the National Resources Institute and Rothamsted, the consortium will also call on the skills and experience of experts from University College London, Royal Veterinary College, Aberystwyth University, City University, University of Sussex, and Brunel University London.

Also involved is horticultural research institute NIAB EMR, and over 50 other partners from across business, government, and civil society.

Supported through the Strategic Priorities Fund of UKRI, the programme will focus on the urgent need to transform the UK food system for health and sustainability, recognising the importance of food systems to economic growth and social wellbeing.

Several aspects of Rothamsted’s research portfolio are involved, including livestock systems, bioinformatics, crop improvement, crop protection and soil science.

The Centre will train over 60 researchers to become future food systems leaders and innovators and house a ‘Food Systems Academy’, a dynamic learning network which will bring together doctoral researchers and their supervisors, with government, business and civil society organisations to co-design projects and help share knowledge.

“We are very happy to be working with influential partners in research and training, together with food systems stakeholders from all sectors, to develop the next generation of food systems leaders in the UK,” said Professor Andrew Westby, Director of National Resources Institute and leader of the consortium.

“As a partnership, we are also excited to look beyond this Centre, to have the opportunity to help shape a truly resilient, healthy and inclusive food system in the UK, working closely with government and the private and charitable sectors to make this a reality.”

The first cohort of doctoral studentships will begin in October 2021; with the call for applications announced soon.

The funding programme is administered by BBSRC, in partnership with ESRC, MRC, NERC, Defra, DHSC, PHE, Innovate UK and FSA. It is part of a wider £47.5 million interdisciplinary research programme seeking to transform the UK food system and is led by the Global Food Security Programme and supported by UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

The grant from UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund is a contribution of £5million and the Centre also benefits from significant additional contributions from the project partners, business, government departments and the charitable sector.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.