EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing around £800 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering. Dr Mark Claydon-Smith summarises its roll at the interface between research and business.
Our mission is to promote and support high quality basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in engineering and the physical sciences with the aim of making the UK to be the most dynamic and stimulating environment in which to engage in research and innovation.
We advance knowledge and technology (including the promotion and support of the exploitation of research outcomes), and provide trained scientists and engineers, which meet the needs of users and beneficiaries, thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom and the quality of life. There is a wealth of examples where original research undertaken at UK universities has led to significant economic returns and wider social benefits.
We can only do all of this through effective collaboration with universities and industry in both helping us to set the research agenda and deliver it to the benefit of the UK. In an increasingly global higher education market, UK universities attract the very best academics and students from around the world, as well as investment from multinational, research intensive businesses. Our close partnership with universities allows us to spot, develop and promote research excellence to keep the UK at the top of the world standings and find innovative solutions to global challenges.
The UK research base is highly productive and has a global reputation for excellence: with just 1% of the world’s population, the UK earns 12% of international citations; a positive sign that UK research is being taken seriously.
World-class university research is an invaluable resource supporting the growth of new and existing knowledge-intensive businesses in the UK and worldwide. There is strong evidence that considerable benefits have flowed to the economy from sustained public investment in excellent research. From JJ Thompson in 1906 at Trinity College, Cambridge for the discovery of the electron, to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 2010 at the University of Manchester for their discovery of graphene, researchers at UK universities have long been recognised for their breakthroughs – in these cases through the award of Nobel prizes.
As part of the EPSRC’s Manufacturing the Future initiative, we are investing £45 million in nine new national EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing, bringing the total to 12.
The EPSRC Centres will undertake cutting-edge research to address major long-term manufacturing challenges and/or emergent market opportunities, and will enhance the global profile and significance of UK manufacturing research.
As national facilities, EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing will create a nationwide network of expertise in manufacturing knowledge with outreach to other centres and relevant research groups. The Centres are based at Brunel, Cranfield, Loughborough, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde and University College London.
EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing are supported by leading industry partners and a range of high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises across a whole range of sectors; in fact most of the research areas are potentially relevant to more than one sector which could result, as one of the Panel members assessing the bids said, in exciting and unexpected research outcomes.
Each EPSRC Centre will receive five years’ funding, allowing for resources to undertake a suite of research projects and also enabling the Centre to retain key staff, undertake feasibility studies, network with other EPSRC Centres in the UK and overseas and ensure the research knowledge is appropriately disseminated. EPSRC support will also be used as a platform from which the Centres can secure further investment from industry and other funders.
As national EPSRC Centres, it is expected they will act as leaders in their areas: be high profile, lead on workshops, open days and networks and drive forward the innovative manufacturing research agenda, influencing policy and contributing to national debate in manufacturing.
In addition to training highly-skilled people to be the research and industry leaders of the future, the new EPSRC Centres will act as a national focus for research in specific areas, focusing on key challenges facing major industry sectors by adopting original approaches to manufacturing not being addressed elsewhere.
At the launch of the new centres, Minister for Business and Enterprise Mark Prisk said: “Manufacturing generates £140 billion a year for the economy and accounts for 55 per cent of total UK exports. And increasingly, it is high-tech, advanced manufacturing that leads the way.
“But we need to do more to rebalance our economy. These exciting new partnerships between our universities and businesses will play a vital role in keeping UK manufacturing ahead of the game internationally.”
World-leading research requires world leading researchers. EPSRC is committed to helping the people we support achieve their maximum potential and our close partnership with leading research institutions promotes and supports leaders who can inspire others.
Through our developing leaders goal we will develop the next generation of scientists and engineers. In particular, we are committed to further increasing the quality of doctorates through a cohort based training approach.
Cohort learning most commonly takes place at Centres for Doctoral Training. These centres represent a new approach to training doctorate students. They aim to create new working/training cultures, build relationships between teams in industry and forge lasting links with business.
Students at these centres carry out a PhD-level research project together with taught coursework in a supportive and exciting environment. These students are particularly sought after my academia and business due to their employability, quality and potential impact. The Centres are co-funded between the university and EPSRC. There are currently 76 centres covering a range of subjects, ranging from wind energy systems in Strathclyde to web science in Southampton.
Doctoral Training Grants are four-year awards provided to universities for the provision of postgraduate study. Grants are provided to universities, not specific departments or individuals, which allows flexibility for the university to support students in a range of areasperhaps across departments or provide partial of whole funding. 42 universities currently hold Doctoral Training Grants. These studentships can be co-sponsored with industry through enabling companies to collaborate on PhD studies of relevant scientific and engineering challenges.
Industrial CASE (co-operative awards in science and engineering) awards provide funding for PhD studentships where businesses take the lead in arranging projects with an academic partner of their choice. The aim of these awards is to provide PhD students with a first-rate, challenging research training experience, within the context of a mutually beneficial research collaboration between academic and partner organisations e.g. industry and policy making bodies. Industrial CASE studentships encourage productive engagement between partners who benefit from a motivated, high-quality PhD student undertaking cuttingedge research relevant to the organisations’ priorities and objectives. The studentship provides opportunities to explore novel research collaborations and strengthen current partnerships.
Working together for maximum impact
As well as training and research, we work with universities and industry to devise, develop and test our policies and priorities.
Through a network of strategic interactions with universities and industry, we are able to discuss and help to identify activities we can work on together. By building appropriate collaborations across the sector, the UK can maintain and develop the strong research base that is needed to support the UK economy and society.