The UK environment for researcher career development


Compared to Europe as a whole, the UK population includes a relatively high proportion of  researchers and also of new doctoral candidates. It also welcomes above average numbers of doctoral candidates from outside the EU (see Researchers' Report 2014: UK). 154 universities made submissions to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. The quality of research in the UK is generally high, with the REF assessing 30% as world-leading and a further 46% as internationally excellent. This is also indicated by above-average citation scores for scientific papers originating in the UK.


UK research organisations are world-leading in the professional development support offered to their researchers. Most UK universities are members of Vitae and work with other institutions and bodies such as research funders and professional societies to offer excellent support services and opportunities; these are usually made available to members of research staff as well as to research students. Standards for research degree programmes are governed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education Quality Code whilst the 2008 Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers - an agreement between research funders and research performing organisations – sets out principles for employing research staff. A majority of UK institutions hold the EC’s HR Excellence in Research Award for commitment to meeting the principles of the Concordat. While numbers of women in top UK academic posts are still low, over 130 institutions are members of the Athena Swan Charter, an award to recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women researchers in STEMM.

There is a long history of support for continuous improvement in researcher development provision in the UK. ‘GRADschools’ supported by the Research Councils have been run since 1968 and from 2003 to 2011 the UK government provided approximately £120m in ring-fenced funding to UK universities for professional development provision for researchers. Read more in our brief history of researcher development in the UK.