Battle for grants gets fierce as more join the fray

Research councils see a rise in applications but fewer candidates are successful, writes Zoe Corbyn

August 21, 2008

The competition for research council grants is becoming increasingly tough, with many more applicants vying for only a slightly greater number of awards than last year, data compiled by Times Higher Education show.

The figures, which cover six research councils, show a 13 per cent rise in the number of applications for research funding in the 2007-08 financial year compared with the previous year.

A total of 12,707 grant applications were lodged, 1,478 more than the previous year, and 3,547 bids secured funding, 118 more than last year. The overall success rate for grants fell from 30.5 per cent to 28 per cent.

The chance of securing funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, traditionally the council with the highest success rate, fell from 34 per cent in 2006-07 to 23 per cent in 2007-08. Researchers applying to the AHRC now have less chance of securing a research grant than those who apply to any other research council.

Comparisons with 2006-07 data show the AHRC received an extra 178 applications in 2007-08 but gave out 153 fewer grants.

The next biggest drop in success rates was at the Economic and Social Research Council where the chance of converting an application into a grant was 28 per cent in 2006-07 compared with 24 per cent in 2007-08.

Success rates also dropped slightly at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (down from 32 per cent in 2006-07 to 30 per cent in 2007-08), the Natural Environment Research Council (down from 29 per cent to 28 per cent) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (down from 30 per cent to 29 per cent).

The Medical Research Council was the only council to buck the trend. The success rate rose from 24 per cent in 2006-07 to per cent in 2007-08.

Speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK, the councils' umbrella group, Gerald Owenson, head of grants at the BBSRC, said that the high numbers of applications were a concern because it meant extra work for reviewers and applicants.

He said the councils were encouraging institutions to set up internal peer-review processes to ensure only the best applications went forward. They were also developing a scheme to make success-rate information more readily available to enable institutions to compare performance.

"What we don't want to do is say 'you have had three unsuccessful applications therefore you are not allowed to submit any for another year'," he said.

The respective swings in success rate loosely mirrored the outcome of last year's budget settlement, which saw the MRC do well and the AHRC do poorly. Although the latest success-rate figures covered an earlier period, councils needed to plan ahead to manage their expenditure, Dr Owenson said.

He added that some councils were making grants larger and longer, which would affect the number of awards available.

(See the related article link)

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

PhD Scholar in Medicine

University Of Queensland

Manager, Research Systems and Performance

Auckland University Of Technology

Lecturer in Aboriginal Allied Health

University Of South Australia

Lecturer, School of Nursing & Midwifery

Western Sydney University

College General Manager, SHE

La Trobe University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham