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Research Councils publish 2015-2016 annual reports


Each of the seven Research Councils has now published their Annual Report and Accounts 2015-16. Laid before Parliament in the last week, the publications outline the Councils’ achievements over the last year.

Each year the Research Councils invest around £3 billion in research covering the full spectrum of academic disciplines from the medical and biological sciences to astronomy, physics, chemistry and engineering, social sciences, economics, environmental sciences and the arts and humanities. Theses report showcase the depth and breadth of the excellent research funded in 2015-16. 

Reflecting on the last twelve months the highlights include:

  • The Cultural Value Project came to a highly successful conclusion in the last year. The project looked into the question of why the arts and culture matter, and how we capture the effects that they have. The most comprehensive research of its kind ever undertaken, the project will be of great value to policymakers and Arts organisations, in helping us understand the many kinds of benefits that the arts and culture bring.

  • Building work starting on the Quadram Institute, a new £75M state of the art food and health research facility on the Norwich Research Park. Capital investment for the Institute is being provided by BBSRC, IFR, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of East Anglia.

  • Experts from Cardiff University have designed and built the UK’s first purpose-built, low-cost energy smart house, capable of exporting more energy to the national electricity grid than it uses. The house, designed by a team based at the Welsh School of Architecture, has been built as a prototype to meet tough new targets for zero carbon housing set by UK Government. Designed and constructed as part of the Wales Low Carbon Research Institute’s (LCRI) SOLCER project, and supported by the EPSRC-funded SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, at Swansea University, its unique design combines for the first time reduced energy demand, renewable energy supply and energy storage to create an energy positive house.

  • In a general election year, the work of the ESRC-funded British Election Study (BES) was to the fore, with experts from the study informing media debates, and through their data playground also making survey resources available to researchers and others to carry out their own analysis. The face-to-face BES poll correctly predicted the final result and the BES methodology was cited as one way to avoid survey bias by Professor Patrick Sturgis (also the Director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods), who undertook an independent review for the British Polling Council of the 2015 election poll inaccuracies. With the referendum on membership of the EU, the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe Initiative has made similar strides as the BES, with experts and fellows becoming the de facto source of independent, impartial information and analysis on the referendum.

  • In Autumn 2015, the Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson MP announced the next big step forward for UK marine and polar science – the construction of its next-generation polar research vessel, which will enter service in 2019 and be built by Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. The contract with Cammell Laird will secure around 500 local jobs and provide a boost to the whole region’s economy. The £200M vessel, named RRS Sir David Attenborough, after the world-famous naturalist and broadcaster, will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey and will help maintain Britain’s position at the forefront of climate, polar and ocean science.

  • An international team of scientists including from nine UK University teams has announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves. The discovery confirms, 100 years on, a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and was made possible by British and German advances in technology. Picked up by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) detectors in the US, the gravitational waves carry unique information about the origins of our Universe. Studying them is expected to provide important insights into the evolution of stars, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, neutron stars and black holes. STFC provided funding and technical contributions to the LIGO upgrade and currently supports the operation of the Advanced LIGO detectors through computational support from UK institutions.

  • The MRC activated an emerging infections rapid response mechanism in February 2016, drawing on Global Challenges Research Fund support, to better understand the nature of the risk posed by the Zika virus. They launched a £4m call for proposals, with support from the Newton Fund and the Wellcome Trust, using an expedited review process. A total of 26 awards were made in March 2016, amounting to £3.3m, making this call a successful example of the MRC’s ability to be agile in the face of public health challenges.

In his review, Sir Paul Nurse acknowledged the UK’s research excellence and the role of Research Councils within this. He also made recommendations on the future of the Research Councils and their communities, to enhance strategic thinking and effectiveness across the research landscape. The Research Councils have already recognised a need to strengthen collective operational working and have started initiating plans in this area.

The Research Councils will be working with Government as its proposals develop and will be focused on ensuring the successful and effective delivery of reform plans, together with our continuing effective and efficient support for research.

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Further information

RCUK Communications Team
Tel: 01793 444387 or email:

Notes to editors

  1. Annual Reports available via these links:


  2. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK’s seven Research Councils. Our collective ambition is to ensure the UK remains the best place in the world to do research, innovate and grow business. The Research Councils are central to delivering research and innovation for economic growth and societal impact. Together, we invest £3 billion in research each year, covering all disciplines and sectors, to meet tomorrow’s challenges today. Our investments create new knowledge through: funding research excellence; responding to society’s challenges; developing skills, leadership and infrastructure; and leading the UK’s research direction. We drive innovation through: creating environments and brokering partnerships; co-delivering research and innovation with over 2,500 businesses, 1,000 of which are SMEs; and providing intelligence for policy making. Find out more about our work at

    The seven UK Research Councils are:

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