Russell Group universities are globally renowned for their contribution to research, nurturing innovation, creating jobs, stimulating economic growth and changing lives for the better across the UK and around the world. 

While research and innovation can bring technological breakthroughs, it can also transform sectors like social care and mental health, and industries like construction and manufacturing, all of which will be essential to the economic recovery in every nation and region of the UK. 

  • Russell Group universities alone undertake around 23,000 contract research projects with businesses and others and collaborative research projects worth over £1 billion a year – nearly twice as much as the rest of the sector combined. [1]

How everyone benefits from world-class research

Stimulating the economy

For every £1 of public research funding they secure, Russell Group universities deliver an average return of £9 to the UK economy and produce 68 per cent of the UK’s world leading research, worth an estimated £34billion a year to the economy.

  • Building on their success in compound semiconductor research, Cardiff University is leading a consortium to develop new 5G communications technologies as well as autonomous and electric vehicles that could transform the regional economy.
  • Endocrine therapies developed at Manchester University are now helping over 1.5 million women with breast cancer around the world. Government initiatives bolstered by the university’s work have helped 90,000 working people a year diagnosed with cancer return to work after treatment.
  • Sheffield’s AMRC helps big and small companies throughout the Midlands improve their manufacturing with smart technology, from satellite rocket fuel thanks to safety equipment, and is a world-leading centre for research and innovation.

Learn more: How cutting-edge research creates jobs and businesses throughout the UK

Research culture

Our report, Realising Our Potential, looks at how to improve research culture and strengthen UK research talent, and includes practical suggestions for the sector. Our dedicated microsite contains all the report materials as well as video contributions from Amanda Solloway MP, UKRI's CEO Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, plus Dr Hua Wang and Dr Meghna Nag Chowdhuri, who are researchers at our member universities: 

Responding to the public health crisis

Whether through vaccine development trials, identifying new treatments, or turbocharging testing capacity, universities have been critical in the UK’s frontline response to Covid-19 and are helping to lead our way out of the ongoing pandemic.

More about our universities' Covid-19 research and support initiatives:

Supporting the fight against Covid-19


The positive impact of our universities on society as a whole is even more impressive when considered against the fact that the UK currently invests a lower proportion of GDP on research and development than its rivals. In Britain we spend 1.71% of GDP, compared to China’s 2.2%, the US’s 2.8% and Germany’s 3.1%. [2]

Our members deliver further value for the taxpayer by multiplying government spending on research with additional investment from private and third sector sources. In 2018/19, UK universities funded an additional £2.7bn of research from their own funds. [3] Our universities’ global reputation allows them to further enhance that spending by attracting international students to the UK, which in turn brings even greater benefits to the UK economy up and down the country. We welcome the Government’s commitment to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, with a longer-term goal of 3%. Higher government spending on research will help the UK remain internationally competitive and this investment will play a key role in boosting the UK’s economic growth for years to come.

We are also working in accordance with the Government’s Research and Development Road Map to cut red tape and enable our bright and talented researchers to focus on their discoveries rather than jumping through hoops. That involves our work on enabling data sharing between universities, embracing modern research methods and digital publications, and working in areas where we have a competitive advantage.

Postgraduate research

The researchers and academics of the future will also help the UK retain its place as a world-leading hub: Our universities are home to around 36% of all postgraduate students studying in the UK and over half (55%) of all postgraduate research students. It is vital that they are supported by a sustainable and attractive funding system for research. That means the Government funding postgraduate research to cover more of its full economic cost, and a vibrant, supportive and innovative research culture, well connected to industry and charity.  

This is also why we’re looking into how to create new pathways to postgraduate careers as part of our efforts to improve access and widen participation


[1] 2018/19 HEBCI data

[2] 2020 OECD data

[3] OfS TRAC data

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