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Press briefing: People and Skills


Welcome to the Research Councils UK (RCUK) press briefing about the value of people and skills. On this page you will find various pieces of information about the importance of people and skills to the economic and social wellbeing of the UK. 

RCUK invests in over 30,000 researchers a year. These people are vital to the future prosperity of the UK because their expertise is helping find urgent solutions to problems facing society today. By supporting excellent people RCUK is helping maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading research base.

UK researchers work with some of the biggest global names in business including Samsung, Siemens, GlaxoSmithKline, Boeing, the BBC and Rolls Royce. The specialist knowledge, skills and experience in working creatively and independently, makes researchers highly employable across a range of occupations.


Professor Rick Rylance, RCUK Champion for Research Careers:

“Research is crucial if we are to find our way out of the economic crisis and huge societal challenges facing the UK today. People are critical to research. Whether they are researchers striving to find urgent solutions to the challenges confronting society or those whose lives are touched by the discoveries of research, it is people that make a difference.”

Professor Duncan Wingham, Professor of Climate Physics, University College London:

“It is extremely difficult to peer into the scientific future and decide ten years ahead what decisions should be made now. There will be some difficult years ahead for research, but we have a responsibility to try to ensure that we retain everything that is excellent.”

Professor Alan Heavens, Professor Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Edinburgh:

“I am an academic, rather than commercially driven, and the intellectual challenge was to devise a solution to a specific problem. But the potential benefit and impact of this technology is enormous, and that this very exciting.”

Professor Peter Coffey, Head of Ocular Biology and Therapeutics, University College London Institute of Opthalmology:

“For me, the practical application of research is crucial. If we can show that this works and that is can be scaled up, then we can help a huge number of people.”

Ellen Colebrook, Postgraduate student in disease and stress biology, John Innes Centre:

“The experience (Parliamentary Fellowship) showed me just how many different areas of policymaking science is relevant to, and how important science policy development is. You can make the most amazing discovery in the lab, but science policy often determines the ultimate impact of that research. I came away with a much greater understanding of how science policy is formed and scrutinised, how scientists can be involved in the process and how important it is that they are.”


Listen to a podcast featuring an interview with Professor Rick Rylance, RCUK Champion for Research Careers and a number of researchers talking about the impact of skills and expertise.

You can listen to the podcast here

A transcript of the interview is available on request from:

RCUK Publications

Impacts: People and Skills
This publication is the fifth in a series of RCUK publications highlighting the impacts of research. It includes profiles of researchers from different disciplines who have an impact on the economy and society in a variety of ways.

People timeline
This timeline explores the legacy of research by charting the career paths of individuals who have had an impact on establishing the UK’s world-leading research base.

Our vision for Research Careers and Diversity
Read about how RCUK is supporting research careers and diversity.

Facts and figures


  • is responsible for most of the publicly-funded research within the UK annually investing around £3 billion in research
  • funds 42 per cent of UK domiciled PhD graduates, 35 per cent of EU domiciled PhD graduates, 25 per cent of all PhD graduates in the UK
  • supports 19,000 doctoral students, 14,000 research staff and 2,000 research fellows.

Researcher career paths:

  • over 80 per cent of doctoral graduates are using their research skills even though many work in roles which are not classified as research.
  • of the 4,500 RCUK Doctoral graduates each year, over half will move out of higher education and take their skills into the wider economy.
  • over 90 per cent of Doctoral graduates feel their PhD experience enables them to make a difference in their workplace.

More information about RCUK support for research careers and training opportunities for researchers can be found at:

Further reading

One Step Beyond: Making the most of postgraduate education
The report is also known as the Postgraduate Review and it found that postgraduate education in the UK is a great asset and world leading in many areas. A full copy of the report can be found here.

The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers
The Concordat sets out the expectations and responsibilities of researchers, their managers, employers and funders. It consists of a set of key principles for the support and management of research careers. More information about the Concordat can be found here.

Vitae® is a national organisation funded by RCUK that supports the training and development of researchers and research staff at higher education and research institutions. More information about Vitae® can be found here.

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