Why support for talented people and teams is crucial
UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) strategy Transforming tomorrow together describes our ambition to make the UK a world-class environment for talented people and teams.
The UK’s highly skilled research and innovation workforce is a huge national asset. Investment in people and skills is critical to the UK’s continued success in research and innovation.
But there are significant, long-term challenges to address if we are to meet future needs, drive research and innovation excellence, and respond to the changing global environment.
Our vision is for a thriving research and innovation system, connected and powered by the people who work and study within it. Talented individuals and teams need the freedom to follow their ideas across disciplinary and sector boundaries.
Career path diversity is key to unleashing creativity and building a fully joined up system where problems can rapidly find solutions and solutions can rapidly find markets. A wide range of skilled people are essential to drive thriving, highly-productive businesses and public services, and the discoveries, infrastructure, investment environment and policies on which they depend.
To deliver on this vision we need to create the conditions where individuals and teams can build and follow diverse career paths.
UKRI’s role as a funder, employer and convenor of research and innovation means that we have a unique role to play in achieving this goal, realising the outcomes set out in the government’s research and development people and culture strategy (GOV.UK).
The range of people UKRI supports
UKRI supports a wide range of people in an equally wide range of roles including researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, technicians, project managers, administrators and many other roles, all of which are crucial to delivering societal and economic progress.
Through our 101 Jobs series UKRI is shining a light on the diversity of roles across the research and innovation system, and some of the inspiring people who fill them.
How UKRI supports talent development
UKRI supports the development of talented people and teams through the full breadth of our portfolio, from our specific talent-focused investments and our wider investment portfolio to our policy work and role as a convenor in the sector.
Specific talent-focused investments
In the 2022 to 2023 financial year we invested £647 million in postgraduate research studentships and fellowships. This accounted for 8% of UKRI’s total investment.
Doctoral and other postgraduate training and support
We are the single largest funder of doctoral students in the UK, currently supporting around 20% of all postgraduate research students. This funding takes the form of training grants to a broad range of research organisations, which are then responsible for recruiting and training students to develop successful careers.
We make both targeted investments focused on developing skills and research capacity in a particular area, and investments that support the breadth of disciplines and research.
We also support doctoral students through institutional-level funding. Through Research England we deliver the quality-related (QR) research degree programme supervision fund, which allocates funding based on the number of postgraduate students an institution hosts, relative to the costs of the subjects they are studying.
In academic year 2022 to 2023, £332 million was committed to the research degree programme (RDP) supervision fund, accounting for 17% of Research England’s QR budget. When added to the £647 million support for postgraduate research students and fellows, our investment in training researchers and innovators exceeds £950 million.
Case study: Career outcomes from DREAM Centre for Doctoral Training
One example of our investment in training is the DREAM (Data Risk and Environmental Analytical Methods) Centre for Doctoral Training, which is funded through a joint grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Some of the research the centre has supported involves large interdisciplinary projects with software engineers, computer scientists, social scientists and other professional and technical roles working together.
Those who have completed the training have gone on to a wide range of roles across industry and academia, including working in climate and resilience in a global risk management company, and for ocean services provider DeepOcean.
At any one time, UKRI funds approximately 2,000 fellows. Through our councils we offer a range of discipline-specific fellowships that allow researchers to pursue their interests in a particular research area.
We have introduced policy fellowships providing the opportunity for researchers and innovators to gain valuable experience within a policymaking context in UK or devolved government departments.
Our flagship Future Leaders Fellowships programme provides long-term support to tackle ambitious and challenging research questions, within and across disciplines and sectors. In addition to funding and training opportunities, fellows get access to the Future Leaders Fellowships Development Network, which offers a range of training, workshops and community events that support professional and leadership development in this next generation of leaders.
Case study: Future Leaders Fellow develops support intervention for children
Many Future Leaders Fellowships involve interdisciplinary projects. For example, Dr Sarah Lloyd-Fox is using her Future Leaders Fellowship to help support parents and families during a child’s early life. One of the main strands is a longitudinal study taking measurements of brain function in parallel with measurements of exposure to challenges in the infant’s environment.
The project is also developing low-cost, early adversity interventions for families, to be used alongside a developmental brain imaging toolkit that is small and portable enough to be used in rural areas of the UK and Africa affected by poverty.
Innovation Scholars secondments are designed to support greater porosity of people and knowledge between research disciplines and between academia and other parts of the research and innovation system, for example industry.
Secondments offer researchers and innovators the opportunity to spend up to three years with a host organisation, in a different sector to their own. UKRI has awarded £11 million to support more than 70 secondments under this initiative.
Project funding for talent development initiatives
Through the Research England Development Fund we provide ongoing support for a wide range of people, including to the technical and postdoctoral communities.
Projects include the Centre for Postdoctoral Development in Infrastructure, Cities and Energy (C-DICE). The interdisciplinary project aims to build and sustain a pipeline of world-class talent for the infrastructure, cities and energy sectors, and accelerate progress towards a net zero society by 2050.
Other projects under this fund supporting talent development are:
- Prosper, a new approach to postdoc career development that unlocks postdocs’s potential to thrive in multiple career pathways
- TALENT, which aims to advance the status and opportunity for technical skills, roles and careers within higher education
- the UK Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy, which aims to advance the landscape and culture for the technical community
Support for talent development in our wider portfolio
Knowledge exchange and commercialisation
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships facilitate three-way collaborations between forward-thinking businesses, graduates and their university or research organisation, to deliver innovation projects and share learning and ideas from the knowledge base.
The ICURe pre-accelerator programme explores the commercial application of research, supporting researchers and young innovative businesses to define and test an idea, understand the commercial potential and take it out of the lab.
For later-stage development and innovation, Innovate UK EDGE offers tailored support to business leaders and their management teams as they grow and scale. It currently works with around 8,000 ambitious, high-growth businesses every year.
The Young Innovators programme offers grants to young people with big environmental, societal and economic ambitions, recognising that innovative ideas can come from anywhere. It has supported over 250 young people from diverse backgrounds, with award holders each receiving a £5,000 grant, one-on-one business coaching and an allowance to cover living costs.
The next iteration of this scheme is the Innovate UK Unlocking Potential Award. This has two levels of support (Begin and Build) which have been designed to cover different stages of a business journey. By broadening the stage at which an idea can be submitted, it will be open to a wider range of applicants.
At the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) national laboratories and through Innovate UK’s Catapult programme we support apprenticeship programmes, which combine practical on-the-job training and studying towards a nationally recognised qualification.
The Catapult programme supports more than 1,700 apprentices, with the High Value Manufacturing Catapult supporting one of the largest apprentice populations in the UK.
The Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult set up the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) and developed the Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP) focused apprenticeship. Aimed at building the skills base needed to support the growing UK industry in the development of ATMPs, the network has over 300 apprentices from 56 companies.
The STFC apprenticeship programme has been running since 1992, providing a vocational career route into STFC’s facilities and national labs and businesses with similar skills needs.
Apprenticeships can be in a range of disciplines, including electrical and mechanical engineering and scientific computing, with the opportunity for apprentices to undertake a higher education qualification and to move into a technician role on completion, with many continuing to develop their careers at STFC.
It is easy to imagine that our support for talented people and teams is focused on studentships and fellowships, however almost every investment we make contributes to developing the UK’s research and innovation workforce.
UKRI funds a wide range of infrastructures, institutes, centres and facilities, fulfilling long-term capability needs by supporting critical mass and training in expertise and knowledge in defined areas.
We fund thousands of project grants each year that not only enable researchers and innovators across the UK to explore their ideas, but also train and support a wide range of people who play critical roles in research and innovation.
Through both direct and indirect costs on grants, UKRI funding develops technicians, research administrators, communicators, project managers, data analysts, archivists, software engineers, and practitioners across a wide range of areas.
We are working to ensure that all these roles are visible and valued, providing attractive careers for a wide range of people.
Growing a talent-focused community: support through UKRI policy and convening
Through our policy and by working with partners across the sector we drive positive change and work to create the conditions where individuals and teams can follow diverse career paths. This ensures that the UK’s research and innovation system attracts and develops the breadth of skilled people and teams needed to create networks across sectors, disciplines and geographies.
Research Excellence Framework
Working across the four UK nations, redesign of the UK’s national research assessment exercise offers an opportunity to reshape the incentives within the research system and rethink what should be recognised and rewarded.
Changes for Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2028 include an expansion of the definition of research excellence to ensure appropriate recognition is given to the people, culture and environments that are key to a vibrant and sustainable UK research system.
Key changes include:
- replacing the current ‘Environment’ section with a new ‘People, Culture and Environment’ section
- increasing the weighting of this section
Expanding the remit of this section will encourage institutions to consider how they foster research excellence through their support for people and teams.
People and teams action plan
Our people and teams action plan builds on our commitments to non-academic, technical and specialist roles to ensure these are properly supported and valued.
Through our plan, we will encourage research organisations to diversify their staffing models, to develop more underpinning and cross-cutting roles and to support diverse careers.
Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI)
We are also building greater flexibility into the assessment of people and teams in the application process for UKRI funding. Across our funding opportunities, UKRI is rolling out the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI). The R4RI is a narrative CV template that enables individuals and teams to evidence a wider range of skills and experiences than traditional academic CVs.
The R4RI allows space to give context to diverse achievements, skills and contributions, such as evidencing contributions to knowledge through outputs beyond publications, and evidencing the development of colleagues and effective working relationships. This approach ensures that we can support the ideas of people who have taken a wide range of routes into and through the research and innovation system.
We are aware that change does not happen in a vacuum. One part of UKRI’s role is to support and learn from other funders in the UK and globally, research organisations and employing bodies to adopt narrative-like CVs, through communities of practice, dissemination events and making resources freely available to use, so that the benefits can be felt across the research and innovation system.
As with everything we do, we are committed to capturing the outcomes of our initiatives and feeding them back into our work to drive continuous improvement, and to share, learn and develop best practice.
Led by Innovate UK we have launched a Workforce Skills Foresighting Hub, working with the Catapults to identify and address the next generation of critical innovation skills gaps, supported by partners including the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Department for Education and Universities UK.
Innovate UK is also working with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to launch an Innovation Skills Framework. This will be embedded in further education and higher education courses, helping to develop future workforce with a clear focus on innovation, and stimulate innovators of the future.
We work closely with UK government to support global mobility and ensure the UK remains an attractive place to do research and innovation. This includes our role as a trusted advisor in the development and delivery of visas that enable talented individuals to come to the UK, including the Global Talent visa (GOV.UK), Government Authorised Exchange visa (GOV.UK) and Scale-up Worker visa (GOV.UK).
UKRI also acts as an endorser of the Global Talent visa. We have endorsed over 3,000 Global Talent visas since the scheme’s inception in 2020, with individuals receiving funding from over 75 endorsed funders and being hosted at over 110 different UK organisations.
Our terms and conditions for research grants have been updated to enable any staff employed on a grant through directly incurred costs for at least 50% of their time to claim costs for visas, the immigration health surcharge (IHS) and a certificate of sponsorship to work in the UK.
Another example is that institutions holding UKRI doctoral training awards can now allocate up to 30% of places to eligible international students. See our EU and international eligibility for UKRI studentships from 2021.
How we are evolving our talent offer
Collective talent funding
- simpler to understand and for awardees to administer
- consistent, while still meeting the needs of individuals and disciplines
- better able to bridge disciplinary and sector boundaries
Enhancing support for postgraduate researchers
Informing the development of our collective talent funding is the ongoing development of a ‘new deal’ for postgraduate research, part of the government’s research and development people and culture strategy (GOV.UK).
UKRI is leading this sector-wide initiative looking at how doctoral and other postgraduate research students are supported, both practically and financially. We wish to ensure that postgraduate research in the UK is attractive to a wide range of people from the UK and around the world, and delivers high-skilled researchers with rewarding career pathways.
One example of action already taken is that we have increased the minimum stipend, which provides postgraduate students’ living costs, by nearly 20% in cash terms between 2022 and 2024, investing an additional £90 million. Many research organisations and funders have followed suit and increased the stipend for their own students.
We continue to work in partnership with government, engaging across our communities to develop the New Deal, grow the UK’s research talent pool and ensure the UK remains an open and attractive place for postgraduate research.
Reviewing UKRI policy and practice
Alongside these initiatives, we continue to review and evolve UKRI funding policies and practices. For example, we regularly amend our terms and conditions for research grants to consider how they can best meet our ambitions and make it as simple as possible to:
- access UKRI support
- collaborate across disciplines
- facilitate new discoveries
- support dynamic rewarding and diverse careers across the research and innovation system
A significant strand in our policy development involves UKRI introducing new roles in funding applications. We have consolidated the roles on a project team when applying for funding using the UKRI Funding Service, going from 35 different role types across the councils previously, to a set of 12.
This harmonisation brings together functionally identical roles under broader definitions, helping to reduce complexity while better reflecting the wide range of people who apply for and deliver UKRI-funded research.
A welcome addition with the introduction of the new roles is the increased recognition of technical and specialist staff. These roles are now eligible to attract indirect and estates costs in addition to salary.
With about 30% of a grant going on indirect and estates, it makes it more attractive to recruit these role types on funded projects, and should create new opportunities for the development for professional enabling staff.