Concentrate...big six take larger income slice

Research council grant awards are good news for the largest research-intensives. Paul Jump reports

December 9, 2010

The concentration of research council grant funding on the largest research-intensive universities increased significantly last year, analysis suggests.

Excluding data for the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which Times Higher Education did not include in its analysis for 2008-09, the amount of research council grant funding concentrated on the top six universities by research income - Imperial College London, University College London and the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Edinburgh - grew from 34.5 per cent in 2008-09 to 39.6 per cent in 2009-10.

Imperial won the greatest amount of research council money, with £96.3 million (including STFC data).

Imperial's rector, Sir Keith O'Nions, said the success supported his institution's "focus on excellence in our core subjects - science, engineering, medicine and business".

University College London won the second-largest income from the councils (£75.7 million).

However, the proportion of the total number of grants won by the big six was largely unchanged, remaining at just under the 30 per cent mark.

The proportion of research funding won by the top 20 institutions (calculated by the value of awards) declined slightly, from 70.2 per cent to 68.4 per cent.

Excluding STFC figures, the total number of grants awarded fell from 3,044 to 2,636, but the total amount awarded fell only slightly, from £1.15 billion to £990.5 million.

The institution that received the most grants was the University of Oxford, which rose from third in last year's list despite winning three fewer awards.

UCL fell from first to sixth, with its number of grants declining from 174 to 115.

The data supplied by the research councils show that UCL's income also fell from £81.4 million to £69.6 million, excluding STFC awards. However, David Price, its vice-provost for research, said his own figures suggest that the institution's research council income actually rose.

He said the university had taken the strategic decision to encourage its researchers to concentrate on applying for fewer, larger grants by actively putting together consortia.

The highest success rates were achieved by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Institute for Animal Health and the Babraham Institute, at 45 and 44 per cent respectively.

According to the figures, Coventry University won no grants despite submitting 28 applications.

However, this was contradicted by Ian Marshall, Coventry's deputy vice-chancellor (academic), who said his database showed several bids had been successful in 2009-10.

He said the discrepancy could be accounted for by the fact that Coventry did a lot of its research in collaboration with other institutions and may not have led the successful bids.

"Research council figures don't tell you the whole story. The lead institution gets the glory - and they are often much further up the league table," he said.

The comparative figures cited exclude data from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to allow a comparison with last year's analysis. As such, some do not match the table (see related file, right), which includes data from all the research councils.

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