Evaluating the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships

Scientist looking into a microscope in a laboratory, photo by Gorodenkoff Productions OU/Adobe Stock

Photo by Gorodenkoff Productions OU/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

UK Government strategies for research and development (R&D) underscore the importance of researcher development and the attraction and retention of research talent, including the 2020 UK R&D Roadmap, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategy 2022-2027 and the 2021 R&D People and Culture Strategy.

The £900m Future Leaders Fellowships (FLF) scheme is a UKRI investment designed to support the UK's researcher development, attraction and retention goals. FLF provides UK and international early career researchers in both academia and business with fellowships to support their development to positions of research leadership.

FLF occupies a unique position within the UK R&D landscape. Where most fellowship schemes focus on specific disciplinary domains, FLF supports researchers and innovators working across disciplines and sectors, thereby promoting greater interdisciplinarity, diversity and cross-sector porosity in UK research careers. FLF has also emphasised long-term support to researchers — offering four to seven years of funding — and support for non-UK nationals in ways that go beyond other schemes.

How are we helping?

In June 2022, UKRI commissioned RAND Europe to conduct an independent evaluation of the FLF scheme. The evaluation will cover funding rounds 1-6 of the FLF scheme. Its key aims are to understand:

  • whether and how the FLF scheme delivered on its intended aims and objectives
  • to what extent the programme achieved its planned impacts
  • for whom and in what circumstances did it achieve this
  • what factors in the context or operation of FLF supported or inhibited the emergence of impacts
  • whether the intervention is cost-effective and a justifiable public investment.

The evaluation approach is structured around three key phases of work: (1) a process evaluation; (2) an impact evaluation comprising a combination of quasi-experimental design and theory-based evaluation; and (3) an economic evaluation (subject to further feasibility assessment). The timeline for the evaluation is 2022-2025.

The evaluation will be key in understanding the contribution of a large, multidisciplinary, cross-sector fellowship scheme — the first of its kind in the UK — to the R&I landscape and to society more broadly. While informing the ongoing development of the FLF scheme, the evaluation will also generate learning relevant to the design of other fellowship schemes in the future.