UK research council success rates fall as budgets tighten

Drop in success rates for competitive research funding at many UKRI councils highlighted by Innovate UK’s improved hit rate

九月 18, 2023

Grant success rates at the UK’s research councils fell slightly in the past financial year, when just over one in four bids for competitive funding were successful, figures indicate.

According to data recently released by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), 26 per cent of applications for open-call research funding to the six research councils serving universities were approved in 2022-23, compared with 27 per cent in 2021-22.

The highest overall success rates belonged to the Natural Environment Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, where 30 per cent of bids won approval in the 12 months up to the end of March 2023. In the BBSRC’s case, this was up from 24 per cent the previous year.

The lowest rates were found at the Economic and Social Research Council, where just 22 per cent of competitive grant bids were approved in 2022-23, followed by the Medical Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, where 24 per cent of funding applications were successful. At the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, 26 per cent of submissions were backed for funding.

Overall, some 2,929 research projects were approved from 11,503 applications to the six councils.

The highest hit rate among UK institutions that submitted more than 50 bids last year was recorded by Durham University (40 per cent, 50 successful projects from 124 bids), followed by the University of Warwick (39 per cent, 57 from 145) and the University of Liverpool (38 per cent, 74 from 195).

The slightly decreased success rate overall is likely to reflect the straitened finances at the councils, of which three saw core budgets shrink slightly in 2022-23 while two others saw minuscule budget increases.

That trend contrasts sharply with the situation at Innovate UK, which supports technology transfer and is open to businesses and research institutions. According to data compiled by Times Higher Education, its grant success rate rose from 14 per cent in 2020-21 to 18 per cent the following year before hitting 25 per cent in 2022-23.

That may rise further with the council’s budget set to increase by £110 million compared with last year, and again by £171 million to £970 million overall in 2024-25 – part of an uplift of almost £1 billion to UKRI’s budget over the coming two years that will see it hit almost £9 billion in 2024-25.

Of the £803 million in grants awarded by Innovate UK in the past year, £125 million went to projects where UK universities were the lead organisation.

UK research council success rates, 2019-23 (%)

2019-20 37 26 31 24 23 28
2020-21 26 31 36 19 14 17 21
2021-22 29 24 30 24 18 27 28
2022-23 24 30 26 22 25 24 30

Source: UKRI’s database for competitive funding decisions, 2019-23. NB: success rates from other UKRI councils including Research England and the Science and Technology Facilities Council have been excluded from analysis. Data includes all research and innovation grants, but not studentships or fellowships.

Commenting on the latest figures, a UKRI spokeswoman said the organisation “consistently tracks, reviews and iterates our policies that affect assessment and decision-making, including award rates of applications”.

“A 1 per cent variation between financial years is not a significant enough fluctuation to be a concern,” she added.



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