How UKRI will transition to collective talent funding

Young businesswoman explaining research results in graphs to colleagues

We explain how the transition to collective talent funding will take place over a number of years and what it means for UKRI’s talent focused investments.

In May, we announced that we will transition to collective talent funding across our talent initiatives. As a first step we have brought together the research councils spending for talent, largely for fellowships and studentships, into a single budget line of £2 billion, covering the 2022 to 2025 spending review period.

What does this actually mean?

We have a strong track record of collaborative working across the councils in the talent space, and we plan to strengthen and extend this to help us deliver better against the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) strategy and councils’ strategic delivery plans.

One of the aims of working collectively is that it will allow us to better attract, develop and retain talented people and teams across all career stages. It will also help us to reduce the bureaucracy involved in accessing and managing funding and make UKRI’s talent offers more consistent and easier to understand. This will, over time, require UKRI to simplify and harmonise our talent offers.

A key outcome will be that it is easier to train and work across disciplines and across the research and innovation (R&I) system, including the private, public and third sectors.

As shown in the Collective Talent Funding Roadmap 2022 to 2025 diagram, our initial focus will be on how we deliver our studentship and fellowship investments, what they support, and how we monitor these. The timings indicated in the diagram for each of the workstreams work best with our current commitment windows and are not hard deadlines. They represent the earliest opportunities that UKRI has for new investments. Colleagues from across the councils of UKRI have developed the roadmap and will be delivering the workstreams.

The need for flexibility

The transition to collective talent funding will take a number of years. We are not looking to shift the way we invest in talent in one fell swoop. Councils have a long legacy of supporting the development of talent, tailored to the needs of their primary community so it is important that together we take the time to explore the different forms that collective working in talent could take and ensure that our proposals will genuinely benefit talented people, in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas, and the R&I system at large.

In addition, studentship investments, in particular, have long commitment windows. While we may identify opportunities to work with current investments to introduce changes, it is our future investments that present the best chance to make changes. This means the talent portfolio will evolve over time and there are no immediate changes to the talent investment plans of the UKRI councils.

There are a number of different ways that UKRI could deliver collective working in talent. These range from council-led funding opportunities using more harmonised schemes, through to central delivery and funding models, like the current Future Leaders Fellowships, and options in between.

To best deliver our strategic priorities we believe we will need a portfolio of approaches. While we look to simplify and harmonise our talent offers, it’s really important that we do not lose sight of the strategic drivers for investing in talent. There is the need for it to be simpler, but we also want to ensure that we retain the ability to support the needs of individuals and disciplines. This means there will always be the need for flexibility within schemes and why we are not looking to offer a single form of support.

Working together on collective talent

Engagement will be a key element of our development of the workstreams. To get the right balance of simplicity and strategic need, and to make sure any changes are for the better, we will need input from the whole community. It is expected that we will be able to begin some early engagement in spring 2023, through existing networks and expand our engagement activities over time. In the doctoral space, we can also benefit from the evidence we have already gathered from reviews recently conducted by a number of councils and the new deal for postgraduate research consultation.

Longer-term, we will be looking at how collective talent funding can best support the delivery of our collective talent strategy across all 9 councils that comprise UKRI. Talent-focused initiatives do not have to focus solely on studentships and fellowships, and Research England and Innovate UK investment also support development of talented people. We will want to consider what the full suite of talent initiatives should be to best support talented people and teams, across all career stages and types. For now, we’ll make a start on studentships and fellowships and I look forward to the journey ahead.

Top image:  Credit: fizkes, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.