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The UK's place as a global leader in research and innovation

27 March 2017

Today Research Councils UK (RCUK) has launched reports detailing the impacts of a collective investment of £3.4 billion in 2015-16. This investment drives economic growth by helping to deliver the UK's Industrial Strategy of increasing productivity, creating high-value industry, jobs and a skilled workforce.

These impact reports showcase specific examples of the impact of investment through our various awards, programmes and collaborations. The wide-ranging nature of the impact extends from furthering technological advances to combatting disease to breakthroughs in the creative economy.

From a purely financial and business perspective that £3.4 billion of research funding has already leveraged an additional £229 million of funding from other partners. That is an additional investment of 7% from commercial, international and academic partner organisations wanting to work with UK researchers. In addition that research has already led to the creation of 57 new spin-out companies and 182 instances of new intellectual property.

Professor Philip Nelson, Chair of Research Councils UK, said:

"These latest impact reports are valuable documents because they not only show the breadth and diversity of the research the UK research councils fund but also draw attention to the benefits science, engineering and the arts and humanities bring to the lives of UK citizens."

"Often these positive impacts go unnoticed because they are connected to processes that go on behind the scenes or they are in areas that enable other areas of science, technology and wider research to move ahead. However, these are important stories to tell as they inform the public and can also inspire tomorrow's engineers, scientists and researchers."

In medical research alone a 17% return on public investment has already been reported. Whilst internationally the work supported by the UK research councils has led to new relationships with over 5,000 partners in 88 other countries, placing UK research at the centre of a truly global research landscape.

Key examples of major success thanks to the support of the Research Councils UK include:

  • UK ranks first for citation impact in the International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base - 2013 (PDF).
  • In the humanities the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) four Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy (2012-16), which were based in Bristol, Dundee, London and Lancaster, saw 29 Universities working with 1,700 innovators to create 208 new jobs, 17 new companies and 192 innovative new products and services leveraging £30.8 million of additional funding for new university-based research and postgraduate training.
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-funded research is cutting billions of pounds worth of costs for the UK water industry between 2015 and 2051. These savings are being made possible thanks to improved regulation informed by evidence from NERC science. The regulation will also generate a potential £5.5 billion in net UK benefits from cleaner water over the same period.
  • Ten years of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-supported artificial intelligence research, that was brought to market by a University of Cambridge spin-out called VocalIQ was bought by technology giant Apple in a deal estimated to be worth up to US$100 million in 2015.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) has pioneered new ways to quantify management quality that has now been implemented in over 20,000 organisations in 34 countries around the world from manufacturing firms to hospitals, retail stores and schools.
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Harwell and Sci-Tech Daresbury Campuses currently host over 300 enterprises and support more than 6,000 jobs, creating the right conditions for high-tech SMEs to grow. This has led to over £100 million being invested by external partners into STFC’s business incubation companies over the last 5 years. In this period, over 230 new jobs were created and companies generated 110 new products, 69 patent applications and two licences, firmly indicating the success of this unique incubation model.
  • In 2016 Medical Research Council (MRC) funded research provided the first UK-specific estimate of spill-over benefits from medical research. The analysis concluded that investment in medical research had stimulated the private sector to invest more in UK research and development, equivalent to a return on investment from public and charitable funding for medical research of 15-18%. When added to the health gain from cardiovascular disease and cancer research, the total return on investment from medical research is estimated to be 24-28%.
  • Including historical data, and data submitted to Researchfish in 2014, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has identified 374 spin-out companies with links to BBSRC investments. Of those, 267 were still active in 2016, employing 2,375 people in the UK.

These reports lay out how investments align to the strategic goals of the UK research councils and how they have delivered outcomes as well as pulling out highlights that show where long-term investments in the UK's research base and researchers have led to significant scientific advancements and innovations.

Further information