Research council ‘impact reports’ reveal rise in doctoral student progression

The number of research council-funded doctoral students remaining in the academy beyond graduation is increasing, new figures reveal.

January 7, 2012

Seventy-three percent of PhD students funded by the Economic and Social Research Council cited higher education as their first post-degree destination in 2010-11 – compared to just 51 per cent in 2007-08.

Significant rises were also reported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Only the Science and Technology Facilities Council reported a fall – from 50 per cent in 2008-09 to 42 per cent in 2010-11.

The figures are included in the impact reports each council published this week, at the behest of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The reports set out the impacts the research councils have achieved in the 2010-11 financial year and include standardised metrics on “outputs” such as papers produced, academics supported and patents applied for.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the reports demonstrated that the UK was a “world leader in science and research”.

“From the development of groundbreaking new treatments to studies that shape public policy and improve lives, the significant economic and societal impact of the UK research base is extremely impressive,” he said.

The AHRC’s report avoids any mention of David Cameron’s Big Society agenda.

The research council’s delivery plan, published a year ago, highlighted the contribution that its Connected Communities programme could make to the Big Society project, prompting a barrage of criticism by academics.

The impact report states merely that Connected Communities will “develop a more comprehensive understanding of the social and economic challenges for communities”.

The reports show that the number of PhD students supported by every council except the BBSRC have fallen slightly since 2007-08.

The numbers of principal investigators supported have also fallen for all but the NERC and the Medical Research Council.

However, the number of publications produced with research council funding has increased for all but the BBSRC and the AHRC.

Numbers of ESRC-funded papers tripled, while those funded by the EPSRC almost doubled.

Several of the reports also draw attention to the high citation impact of the research they fund.

David Delpy, Research Councils UK’s impact champion, said: “It is vitally important to demonstrate the value that the UK’s excellent research contributes to the economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing of the UK, both now and in the future.”

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