UCL News


UCL researchers awarded UKRI Celebrating Impact Prizes

3 November 2022

Two researchers and one team from across UCL have been recognised for their work on inequality, access to education, and the COVID-19 pandemic at the 10th annual Celebrating Impact Awards, hosted by UK Research & Innovation.

image of the winners of the UKRI celebrating impact awards

Presented at a ceremony last night, the prestigious awards celebrate social science research with an outstanding social impact - and were awarded in recognition of researchers’ work with communities across the UK and globally.

The three UCL winners are: Professor Heather Joshi CBE, Professor Lorraine Dearden (both UCL Social Research Institute, IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education & Society), and the team behind the COVID-19 Social Study, led by Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care).

Professor Joshi was awarded the inaugural John Hills Impact Prize for her outstanding contribution to addressing social inequality as part of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS). Through her work, Professor Joshi has informed policy by documenting generational change in social and gender inequality. Her research has included investigations into gender pay gaps in the labour market, the impact of childrearing on women's lifetime earnings, and effects of maternal employment on childbearing and child development.  

Professor Joshi said: “I was always encouraged to take advantage of the career opportunities which women in previous generations lacked. Early in my career I was able to demonstrate how longitudinal data shed useful light on women’s role in the economy and as mothers. I was fortunate to join the team keeping the British Birth Cohort studies going. This was the Centre for Longitudinal Studies after it came to IOE in 1998, and where I headed the first 11 years of Millennium Cohort Study.  

“The career achievements recognized in the Impact ESRC award were not single handed. They are based on teamwork for which many colleagues should share the credit. Today the cohort studies are flourishing thanks to their work, the continuing investment by the ESRC and the infrastructure now provided by UCL.”

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The John Hills Impact Prize is awarded to social scientists whose work has benefitted wider society over a sustained period and been the catalyst for lasting impact. It was created this year in honour of the late Professor Sir John Hills, who, through his lifetime, demonstrated how social science research can drive positive change.

Professor Dearden was awarded the Outstanding Public Policy Impact award, alongside Professor Bruce Chapman (Australian National University), for their work on financing Higher Education in Colombia. Professor Dearden’s graduate income forecasting has assisted governments around the world to rethink the design of Higher Education student loans, and her research has supported radical reforms to Colombia’s university student loan system.

From 2023, up to 10,000 students from lower-income households annually will be able to access higher education – and the reforms will prevent students from defaulting on their student loans – while the Colombian government will secure higher revenues from loan repayments in the long term.

Professor Dearden said: "I am very honoured to receive this award with Professor Bruce Chapman from the Australian National University. The changes that will occur to Colombia's Student Loan system from next January will transform the lives of tens of thousands of higher education students from the poorest backgrounds in Colombia.

“The reform would not have occurred without the funding support of the ESRC via the Centre for Global Higher Education, the support from UCL and importantly the local analysts within the Colombian Student loan company ICETEX - including current UCL MSc Data Science and Public Policy student and UCL scholarship holder, Germán Pulido." 

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The team behind UCL’s COVID-19 Social Study took home the award for Outstanding Societal Impact for their work tracking the real time impacts of the pandemic on individuals and communities across the UK. Led by Dr Fancourt, the project tracked more than 70,000 participants from the start of lockdown in March 2020 over the course of two years, to understand the impact of the pandemic on people’s daily lives, and how differences in age, socioeconomic background and other factors affected the impact of the pandemic on their lives.

Dr Fancourt said: “I’m delighted that the efforts of our team, and of course our 70,000 participants, have been recognised by the ESRC in this way. To be able to track the psychological and social effects of the pandemic in real time and inform government policies was an absolute privilege for us. I’m proud of the team and want to thank them, our participants and our funders for their support”

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Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation and Global Engagement), added: “I’d like to extend my warmest congratulations to the winners for these outstanding  achievements. From widening access to education in developing countries, to informing COVID policy and addressing social inequality, this is a prime example of how research can make a tangible and lasting difference to the lives of people across the world.”




  • Left image: L-R - Dr Feifei Bu, Dr Alexandra Burton, Professor Andrew Steptoe and Dr Daisy Fancourt. Right image: L-R - Professor Heather Joshi CBE and Professor Lorraine Dearden. 

Media contact
Evie Calder

Tel: +44 20 7679 8557
E: e.calder [at] ucl.ac.uk