Research Matters: Britain beats the recession to remain on the cutting edge

Culture of enquiry and curiosity attracts talent from all over the world

At a time when UK unemployment is rising and the economic future looks uncertain, you might think researchers seek opportunities elsewhere. However, the UK remains one of the world's best places to be a researcher. Opportunities to work at the cutting-edge of technology, science and thought are enormous and attract not only our best UK minds but talent from around the world.

The British research system is highly efficient. We are the most productive research nation in the world, even compared to countries investing far more cash, such as the United States, China and Germany. And we lead in many areas. For example, a pioneering expedition from the British Antarctic Survey to Lake Ellsworth in the Antarctic aims to be the first in the world to drill through the ice cap and take samples from an ancient sub-glacial lake. Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the team hopes to reveal new forms of life and provide vital clues about climate change. Teams from both the United States and Russia are preparing to investigate similar lakes but it is likely the British team will get there first. A critical factor in their success will be the unique equipment designed and built by researchers in the UK.

One reason why we are so good at producing world-leading research that gives good returns on investment has to be the people who make up the UK research base. Investment in individuals through the course of their research careers can generate numerous innovations and partnerships that in turn shape the direction of future research. Research is at heart a people business and smart people are drawn to work with other smart people.

International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base – 2011, a report by Elsevier for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, found the UK is exceptionally effective in attracting the best minds from around the world. There is something magnetic about our intensely-networked island that encourages ground-breaking researchers to work here. It is a culture of enquiry and curiosity: that precious, virtuous circle where the best attract the best and are given opportunities and investment in up-to-date facilities.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) believes continued investment in researchers' skills and training is crucial to help UK research and thus stimulate economic growth. For example, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in January announced a £67 million investment in postgraduate training and development in bioscience. It includes support for 660 four-year PhD students and 70 studentships for postgraduates. Similar opportunities are available across the research councils.

Dr Keisuke Kaji attests to the value of his Medical Research Council (MRC) fellowship. Having completed a PhD in fertilisation research in his native Japan, Dr Kaji moved to Edinburgh and, for the past eight years, has worked on stem cells. His work could pave the way for stem cells made from skin cells to be transplanted safely into humans for the first time. It might lead to cures for the likes of spinal cord injury, diabetes, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. Dr Kaji says his MRC fellowship has been "crucial".

More information about RCUK is available at www.rcuk.ac.uk

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Recruitment Consultant (Trainee / Experienced)

£18000 - £27000 per annum + doe OTE £45K: SThree: SThree are always looking fo...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own