How we fund research

Our research funding is intended to strengthen and support a world-class research base in English higher education institutions. These pages explain how we calculate research funding at Research England and how this fits into the broad approach to public funding for research.

The 'dual support' system

Public funding for research in English higher education is administered under a 'dual support' system.

Under this system, we provide annual funding for English institutions in the form of a 'block grant', and the UK Research Councils provide funding for specific research projects and programmes.

Research England funding supports higher education institutions' (HEIs) research infrastructure and enables ground-breaking research in keeping with their mission.

'Quality-related' research funding

We distribute the majority of our funds for research on the basis of research quality, and take into account the volume and relative cost of research in different areas.

This is called 'quality-related research (QR) funding'. To assess the quality of research for funding purposes, we and the other UK funding bodies, run a periodic assessment exercise. The most recent was the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014).

The results of the REF were published in December 2015 and have been used to determine funding from academic year 2015-16 onwards.

Each year, the Government tells us how much money will be available to allocate in its grant letter. This sets out the total level of funding and associated guidance on policy priorities.

In 2018-19 we will distribute £1.6 billion quality-related research (QR) funding. This breaks down into the following elements:

  Final allocations (£ millions)
Mainstream quality-related research (QR) including London weighting 1,050
Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) 58
QR Research Degree Programme (RDP) supervision 260
QR charity support fund 204
QR business research element 64
QR funding for National Research Libraries 7
Total recurrent research 1,643

Full details of these figures, and the annual quality-related research funding data are published as part of our annual funding allocations.

We also provide funding to cover infrastructure costs:

Principles of quality-related funding

  • We allocate 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.

Why this method?

Our method for calculating research funding enables a degree of research stability and independence not provided by other funding sources.

The method is stable because the results of the research assessment are used over a prolonged period. It gives institutions independence because they can do what they want with the money and it is not directed to particular research programmes.

It also ensures that universities:

  • drive innovation and respond flexibly to changing needs as autonomous institutions
  • invest in new and emerging areas
  • grow and support new talent and protect important research areas.

The flexibility of this funding provides universities with the resources to:

  • support the cutting edge of knowledge
  • sustain responsive research
  • sustain a world-class research environment
  • develop people and skills.

Mainstream quality-related research funding

Mainstream quality-related research (QR) funding (with London-weighting) accounts for £1,050 million of Research England’s research grant.

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.

How does the funding method work?

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 institutions. The distribution between subjects and institutions are 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:

Research cost weights
A High-cost laboratory and clinical subjects 1.6
B Intermediate-cost subjects 1.3
C Others 1.0

We also adjust the mainstream quality-related 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 unit of assessment (UOA).

Support for research degrees

We provide a stream of funding that helps universities meet the costs of supervising research degree programmes, helping to encourage the next generation of researchers.

Research Degree Programme (RDP) supervision funding currently amounts to £260 million. We allocate it only to departments which will receive mainstream quality-related funding in the same academic year.

In 2011, the former HEFCE consulted on the method of RDP allocation and developed a funding method for 2012 onwards that links RDP supervision funding to the quality of research. This funding method continues under Research England.

How does RDP funding work?

We calculate a quality score for each department based on research assessment outcomes. For 2017-18, the quality score for each department uses the quality profile from the REF. The score is the amount of 3* and 4* activity as a proportion of total activity at 2* quality and above.

The relative cost of research is also taken into account, with one of three research subject cost weights2 applied to the rate of funding received per post-graduate research (PGR) student.

We calculate final rates of funding per (London-weighted) PGR full-time equivalent student to ensure we allocate the full budget. To complete the calculation we multiply these final rates of funding by London-weighted PGR full-time equivalent students.

We profile allocations (for the full programme) over a maximum period of three years for full-time study (or the part-time equivalent).

Charity support funding

We provide additional support for research that universities carry out on behalf of charities. The funding amounts to approximately £204 million in 2018-19.

The funding recognises that charities sponsor high-value research in universities that brings benefits to scientific discovery and society, but that they cannot always meet the full costs of that research.

The funding also aims to encourage institutions to work with charities in this way.

This sum is allocated to institutions in proportion to the income they receive from charities for research which has been awarded through peer review and open competition.

Funding method

Institutions report the income they receive from charities, and which qualifies them for our funding, in the financial statistics they return to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. We use this to inform our allocations.

For 2018-19, we will allocate a fixed pot of £204 million to institutions in proportion to a rolling four-year average of their charity income.

Business research

We provide additional support for research that universities carry out with business and industry. The funding amounts to approximately £64 million in 2018-19.

The business support element encourages universities to collaborate with business and other non-academic organisations over research activity and to develop relationships with industry.

Institutions must attract money from industry to qualify for the funds. We allocate the money as a fixed sum which we allocate between institutions in proportion to their qualifying income.

Funding method

Institutions report the income they receive from industry in their financial return to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

For 2018-19, we will allocate a fixed pot of £64 million to institutions in proportion to a rolling four-year average of their business income.

Quality-related research (QR) case studies