Strategic goal one: Research scale and excellence

We will enhance our research excellence and grow our overall scale through higher concentration of activity.

The growth imperative

Excellence depends, to a considerable degree, on the scale of research concentration and power we can bring to bear in a field, on a topic or a problem. A key element of excellence at scale is connectivity and the creation of strategic partnerships with people, organisations and industry locally, nationally, and globally.

To sustain excellence at scale, we need to grow in our number of research concentrations and overall in the size of our research portfolio, including our research income. We shall do this through a combination of recruiting new talent, strongly supporting existing talent, and nurturing the next generation of postgraduate, postdoctoral early-career researchers, in all cases recognising the need to diversify our talent pool. In so doing, we will contribute a major part of the ‘Surrey Advantage’ through enhancing the quality and reputation of our research. As part of a virtuous circle, our success as a knowledge leader gives rise to long-lasting prestige and brand power. Our reputation, in turn, allows us to attract the best people and more high-calibre students to study here, which, in turn, sustains funding to the institution.

Objective overview

We will establish and operate up to six research themes.

Creating research themes

Whilst quality research in any area is valued and will be supported, one way we shall pursue research concentration, scale and excellence is through the continued support of existing research themes (Sustainability, and Urban Living) and the creation of new ones. New themes will be designed to take advantage of internal capability, particularly academic leadership, and external opportunity (particularly the Government’s present Industrial Strategy). Themes will be chosen based on three criteria: demonstrable distinctive capabilities or areas of research strength from within our existing portfolio; opportunity for growth through broadening existing strengths in areas where we expect future funding opportunities; and where whole-of-institution investment and support is required for the area to realise its potential.

The objective for such themes is not to become or replace research centres, but to provide an umbrella under which communities of researchers may form, early-career researchers may be nurtured, and new opportunities may spring forth; thereby, integrating and organising capabilities across faculties and building critical mass. The themes are expected to have a five-year life span and to result in at least one major funded initiative within that time.

Measures of success

Key achievements by 2022 
Number of themes operating with at least 50 active members Four
Theme-related research income50 per cent increase over baseline
Theme-related research qualityAverage FWCI 2.0

Objective overview

We will continue to pursue a programme of strategic appointments focused on individuals with a demonstrable research track record, at all career stages, of the highest quality.

Supporting excellence and talented researchers

High-quality research is conducted by talented diverse people, increasingly working collaboratively in teams and in consortia. Creative ideas that originate from the best researchers are the most significant ingredient of success. The attraction, retention and nurturing of top-quality talent, at all career stages and from diverse backgrounds, is at the heart of our strategy.

Our target is excellence at the highest level, but we also have priorities in terms of areas, reassessed from time to time. Set within the framework of our themes, current priority areas are:

  • AI and machine learning
  • Connected and autonomous vehicles
  • Cybercrime
  • Digital economy
  • eOneHealth
  • Programmable communication networking.

Find out about our leading researcher opportunities. Such appointments will add to existing critical mass or create new opportunity and are expected to make a major contribution to increasing our research income.

We will continue with the Vice-Chancellor’s fellowship scheme, introduced in 2018, for 0.2 FTE fractional three-year appointments targeted at leading researchers with whom a strong partnership would be mutually beneficial but for whom a permanent move is premature or not feasible.

Our ambition is to maintain a portfolio of 20 Vice-Chancellor’s fellows. We will monitor progress by assessing the number of individuals appointed, the average income generated per year and the number of highly cited individuals associated with the University.

Recognising the importance of supporting future research leaders, we are introducing the Surrey Research Fellowship Scheme focused on early-career researchers. To support these researchers in their career aspirations, we will provide formal mentoring and set the objective of securing external funding within the fellowship period, thus, growing and consolidating their position as independent research leaders.

In addition, we will increase the number of early-career and mid-career researchers holding externally awarded fellowships and new investigator awards, such as from the learned societies, charities and UKRI. To do this, we will introduce a more proactive and systematic approach to internal and external talent spotting. We will improve the packages of support we provide to such fellows, ensuring they are tailored to the needs of the individual and complement the support offered by the external funder. We will prioritise professional support for fellowship applicants, offering help in bid writing and in interview training.

Key performance indicators for this strategy will be the number of fellows, their success in achieving additional funding, the achievement of high-quality outputs, and their impact over time.

A key measure of overall success in scaling and increasing the excellence of our research and innovation will be meeting the research income target of £60m by 2021/22.

Measures of success

We aim to recruit up to 20 leading researchers by 2021/22, in each case, with a tailored support package for people and infrastructure.

Our ambition is to maintain a portfolio of 20 Vice-Chancellor’s Fellows. We will monitor progress by assessing the number of individuals appointed, the average income generated per year and the number of highly cited individuals associated with the University.

Key performance indicators for this strategy will be the number of fellows, their success in achieving additional funding, the achievement of high-quality outputs, and their impact over time.

A key measure of overall success in scaling and increasing the excellence of our research and innovation will be meeting the research income target of £60m by 2021/22.

Key achievements by 2022 

Number of researchers with FWCI 3 (or equivalent where citations not the norm)


Number of researchers responsible for 50% of research income 


Number of ECRs in top 20 per cent citation percentiles

Increase by 25 per cent

Objective overview

University of Surrey is, and is seen as, a best-in-class place to undertake research and innovation.

Nurturing a world-leading research environment

The introduction of new researchers to broaden and deepen our research base will be accompanied by a renewed focus on developing our existing researcher community, ensuring they are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to deliver world-class performance and are able to fully realise their potential. We will actively identify, support and develop our most promising researchers on the journey to becoming independent, internationally leading researchers.

Researchers must be free to concentrate on developing and delivering on research ideas. We will reshape our processes to maximise the time and effort they are able to spend on these core activities. We will optimise supporting practices, such as recognition and reward, workload models, mentoring and career development, and clear and constructive internal peer review, to be researcher-centric. We will develop a ‘one-stop shop’ for research and innovation services so our research community does not have to unduly concern itself with the University’s internal structures. These changes will result in Surrey becoming known for being a ‘best-in-class’ place to undertake research and innovation, in which our brightest and most talented feel recognised and able to give of their best, and our whole research community feels valued and empowered to achieve to their full potential.

We recognise that our objectives will only be achieved by widening the pool of talent and engaging with traditionally under-represented groups. As an institution, we support, encourage and provide opportunities so all our academic community can effectively work to promote themselves and their work on the national and international stage. For example, we have introduced the Vice-Chancellor’s Inclusion and Career Investment Awards to help those with caring responsibilities overcome the financial barriers associated with some career development opportunities. We are proud to hold an institutional Athena SWAN Bronze Award and are listed in the Stonewall Equality Index. We are also committed to improving our work in the area of equality and diversity, and securing recognition for it through the Race Equality Charter and by being ‘Disability Confident’. Core to our approach is the participation of key stakeholders in the development and implementation of our policies. We aim to make Equality and Diversity mainstream across all policy areas in order to ensure we provide our community with the best and most inclusive research environment. For example, early-stage researchers are represented through the Doctoral College, and postgraduate researcher and early-career researcher forum members on the Athena SWAN Implementation team. We are also promoting a supportive and inclusive culture by actively celebrating diversity through events and programmes such as Black History Month, LGBT History Month and International Women’s Day.

Measures of success

We will measure our success through:

  • Retention rates of our top bracket of researchers and researcher career progression
  • Assessment of qualitative feedback in staff surveys
  • Sector-wide benchmarking our research support processes and structures
  • Assessment of our progress against the objectives of our equality, diversity and inclusion plans.
Key achievements by 2022 

Number of ECRs in top 20 per cent citation percentiles

Increase by 25 per cent

Research community staff satisfaction

Top 20 institution as assessed in national staff surveys

Athena SWAN

Achieve Silver

Objective overview

To ensure our researchers are able to optimise the quality of their outputs and to increase the fraction of our research judged to be internationally leading.

Nurturing world-leading outputs

We will use a programme of annual reviews to improve the quality of our research outputs. The research reputation of the University is critically dependent upon the reputation of our researchers and the research outputs they produce. Our strategy will pro-actively shape the quality of those outputs by providing the University and its community with a better understanding of what constitutes internationally leading research. Each year, all active researchers will have a sample of their outputs assessed by selected internal and external peers and will be provided with feedback on that assessment. This process will enable the researchers and the internal reviewers to calibrate their own view of the quality of the research, as well as provide the University with a view of the whole portfolio and of the researchers who most consistently produce the highest quality outputs. In all cases, we will closely follow the guidelines issued by the UK Forum for Responsible Research Metrics.

We will complement the annual review with workshops and training activities that provide advice and guidance on research bidding, publication strategies and skills. Anonymised feedback from the annual reviews will be used to determine training and support needs, ensuring that the review process is utilised constructively to support professional development, and empower staff to achieve their full potential. We will furthermore alter the University’s appraisal and promotion systems to focus more specifically on the quality of research outputs rather than the quantity.

Measures of success

Success will be measured through the level of staff participation, through the proportion of outputs perceived to be internationally leading, through the University’s field-weighted citation index ratings and the number of highly cited individuals, and through performance in REF and related exercises.

Key achievements by 2022 

University ranking in REF2021 by GPA 

Top 20

University average FWCI



Objective overview

Build and link our research themes, develop strategic relationships with industry and public sector research establishments, and capitalise on existing, and future USPs in research.

Specific partnerships and initiatives

Within the above framework of support for talent generally, and aggregation to achieve concentration, and what follows below on infrastructure, postgraduate research and innovation, we will continually consider and consult over new specific partnerships and initiatives. Currently, many of these opportunities relate to the Industrial Strategy. The one certainty in all such plans is that things will change – here we describe our overall approach and current and near-term aspirations.

Recognising that research concentration is often necessary to achieve success, and whilst ensuring that quality research in any area is valued and supported, we will focus relationship building on key sectors including healthcare, space and aerospace, creative industries, and 5G and communications technologies. Within these sectors, we will clarify and actively promote our proposition and, drawing upon external advice, develop sector strategies. A critical factor for success will be jointly co-creating potential research programmes ahead of funding opportunities. As we achieve success in these sectors, we will look to extend our reach into other sectors.

Complementing this focus on specific sectors, we will introduce key account management principles for selected partnerships. A specific example of such an approach is the relationship with the National Physical Laboratory, where we have established a formal strategy and governance model.

Our strategy for developing USPs is to build distinctive assets and capabilities in areas where we already have recognised strength and/or areas where we can readily extend such strengths. The following examples illustrate that approach without setting out to be exhaustive.

5G and its applications – The 5G Innovation Centre is the largest academic research centre in the UK in its field hosting over 170 researchers and having secured £68m from industry and regional partners. At the heart of the 5GIC is a world-leading independent testbed for trialling emerging 5G ideas, proving concepts, validating standards and testing vendor inter-operability. The testbed covers an area of 4km2 comprising indoor and outdoor environments and supports broadband mobile and Internet-of-Things applications.

Smart homes – Working with innovative start-up company, GlobalHOM, the University has established the first prototype of a new smart home concept with the vision that this will act as a research testbed. The testbed has recently been supported through an Innovate UK transforming construction grant which will stimulate research in sustainable energy, healthy ageing and indoor environments. Planning permission for the prototype has been secured, with construction due to start in 2019.

Learning Hotel – Building on the University’s internationally leading position in hospitality and tourism management, we are creating a Learning Hotel which will integrate a 200-room 4* hotel alongside facilities to undertake research and innovation. 10 ‘rooms for the future’ will be specifically fitted out for academic research. The Learning Hotel will become a centre of excellence with nationally unique capabilities for research in hospitality and tourism, with much wider opportunities in criminology, sleep and chronobiology, Internet of Things, and more.

Digital space campus – Our strong heritage through Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., and ongoing strength in space engineering through the Surrey Space Centre represents an opportunity to grow in line with the UK Government’s high aspirations for the space sector in general (i.e., nearly doubling the UK’s market share of space sector exports to 10 per cent, some £40bn). Guildford and the greater Surrey region are extraordinarily well placed, with some 79 space organisations in the region, the largest concentration in the UK. Two other local factors, the University’s 5G Innovation Centre, and the Guildford concentration of digital games companies combine to provide an unrivalled USP.

Measures of success

In measuring success in this area, the key metric will be the level of collaborative activity we have in each sector, with each key account, and the extent to which we are successful in leveraging new and existing USPs. This will be reflected by metrics including number and value of: joint research projects; staff secondments; PhD students; and research outcomes.

Key achievements by 2022 

Number of relationships valued at more than £250k pa (or equivalent)

Number of research areas with a FWCI higher than 39

Measuring success

See a summary of all the measures of success of this strategic goal.

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