Quality-related research funding

Quality-related research funding (QR) funding constitutes the majority of funding for research in UK HEPs.

We aim to target funding where research quality is highest, distributing funding on the basis of quality, volume and relative cost of research in different subject areas.

QR funding principles

We allocate QR funding selectively by reference to robust judgements of research quality.

  • We fund research of the highest quality wherever (and in whichever discipline) it is found
  • Our allocation process is robust and transparent, based upon clearly defined criteria and avoiding undue complexity.

How do you assess the quality of research?

To assess the quality of research for funding purposes, we and the other UK funding bodies run a periodic assessment exercise (the REF), which takes place every seven years. The most recent was in 2014, and it has been used to determine funding from academic year 2015-2016 onwards. The next exercise will take place in 2021.

Why does Research England allocate funds on the basis of research quality?

Our funding method ensures a degree of research stability and independence not provided by other funding sources, because the results of research assessment are used over a prolonged period and the funding can be used as providers choose rather than being directed to particular research programmes.

How does this benefit Higher Education Providers (HEPs)?

The stability and flexibility of this funding method allows HEPs to:

  • Drive innovation and respond to changing needs
  • Invest in new and emerging areas and support the cutting-edge of research
  • Grow and support new talent in important research areas
  • Sustain a world-class research environment.

How is QR funding allocated?

Mainstream QR funding is first separated into three ‘pots’ according to the contribution that the three elements of research assessed in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) make to overall quality profiles (65 per cent for outputs, 20 per cent for impact and 15 per cent for environment).

These pots are then further divided by subject, and finally distributed to providers. The distribution between subjects and providers is informed by:

  • the volume of research (based on numbers of submitted research-active staff)
  • the subject cost weights (reflecting, for example, the fact that laboratory-based research is more expensive than library-based research)
  • the quality of research as measured in the REF.

How we take quality into account

The funding allocation is based on the volume of activity assessed as 4* and 3* at a ratio of 4:1.

4* = Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

3* = Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

How we take relative cost into account

The relative cost weights applied are:

A High-cost laboratory and clinical subjects 1.6

B Intermediate-cost subjects 1.3

C Others 1.0

We also adjust the mainstream QR grant allocated for research in geography and psychology. This recognises that around half of the research activity in these disciplines is similar to work in science disciplines, rather than in the other social sciences.

How we take London weighting into account

London weighting is calculated as 12 per cent for inner London and 8 per cent for outer London of the mainstream QR funds for each REF unit of assessment (UOA).

Image showing allocation of QR funding in 2018-2019

Explore QR research funding data 2018-19

For previous years recurrent research funding data sets please visit the former HEFCE pages on The National Archives.

Equality impact assessment

In summer 2019, Research England undertook an equality impact assessment (EIA) of its policy for allocating formula-based research funding. The EIA and supporting materials are published below.

In line with the EIA, and as part of our commitment to EDI, we have

  1. modified our method of counting PGR students, which informs QR RDP supervision funding, by removing the full-time equivalent (FTE) limit and year limit per student. The revised method will capture the student FTE within the latest available Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student record without imposing limits on the individual student’s total FTE or the number of years of study they have undertaken; the modified approach will be used for funding allocations from 2020-21 onwards
  2. added to the Research England Development (RED) Fund a new priority relating to innovation in enhancing EDI.

We will publish our EDI Implementation Plan in 2020. This plan will also respond to UKRI’s EDI Vision and Priorities 2025, scheduled for publication in 2020.