Each year, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Research Forum event showcases world-class engineering research funded through the Academy’s wide range of programmes. Today’s event has been recast for the tumultuous year that is 2020, taking place online and once again highlighting the undeniable adaptability of engineers. In this new format, it remains a highlight of the Academy’s research activities, consisting of keynote talks from awardees and alumni from across the portfolio of the Academy’s research activities.
Alongside the Research Forum, the Academy is also today publishing the findings of a survey of people who have been funded through our research programmes. This survey was conducted with a key objective - to determine the long-term impact of our research schemes on awardees’ careers and their contributions to engineering research, industry and the engineering profession. We also wanted to evaluate whether the schemes remain fit for purpose and whether improvements are needed.
In a year when we’ve all had to adapt and change so much in response to the current pandemic, two major recommendations from the survey were particularly pleasing:
It is very reassuring to see that our research programmes continue to deliver for society and the economy, in large part because we have significantly evolved them in response to stakeholder needs and a changing R&D landscape. We must remain alert to the need to adapt and change according to the prevailing circumstances in order to add value where possible.
We have increased the flexibility of the Industrial Fellowships scheme, enabling awards to be held over a two-year period and to include industry researchers moving into academic environments. We have developed a suite of training and professional opportunities for our awardees, as well as additional funding opportunities. We see this process of continual improvement as essential to ensuring that our Research schemes remain fit for the future.
The evaluation did highlight some challenges that the Academy has long appreciated and that we are endeavouring to address so we can better reflect the society we serve. The survey shows issues with the diversity of the awardees and regional diversity of participating universities, and the Academy aims to strengthen its work to overcome these challenges, while continuing to monitor data on applicants and awardees and evaluate the regional diversity of our Research programmes.
We work in partnership with universities to encourage applications for funding from groups underrepresented in engineering. Our Research Fellowship scheme permits an additional application if it comes from an underrepresented group. As a result of this positive action, 29% of the current awards are held by female engineers.
The Academy is also committed to an inclusive economy, ensuring that we invest in and support excellence across the UK. We have increased programme outreach to universities over the past three years, through hosting the Academy-ARMA study tours but also through targeted, regional university visits and participation in relevant events across the UK. This has increased awareness of the Academy’s schemes and supported potential applicants with their applications.
The Academy’s Research schemes are designed to promote excellence in UK engineering research and innovation by supporting outstanding researchers and enhancing partnerships with industry. In the last five years, the Academy has supported 300 researchers and 700 university-industry collaborations all over the world.
The results of the survey are a testament to the wider impact that Academy support has on UK society and the economy and we plan to build on this initial study by tracking the careers of participants and alumni, and carrying out further evaluations on a planned and systematic basis.
I hope you have a chance to look at the survey findings and please also read our response. Both documents are available here.
We could not deliver our research schemes without the continuing support of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and the crucial role of our Fellows in giving their time so generously in our committees, steering groups and as awardee mentors is also essential.
The Academy has a duty to lead the UK engineering profession and a charitable mission to deliver public benefit through engineering excellence and technology innovation. As we really step into our leadership role and serve society even better, we accept the findings of the evaluation in full and look forward to our Research schemes continuing to support engineers who will help us to deliver our vision of harnessing the power of engineering.
We will continue to work on diversifying the engineering career path, and as we do this, we call on industry and universities to continue to invite us to visit and participate in relevant events so we can continue our programme of outreach.
We believe engineers can transform society for the better and help to make the world a safer, fairer and more sustainable place to live, and look forward to continuing to support the excellent research that makes this happen.