The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is considering restructuring its programmes to fund collaborative centres of excellence.
A council meeting in December will discuss broadening this strategy, following the launch this week of 12 Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres costing £60 million.
Each IMRC will receive funding for five years, consolidating current grants. Many of the centres already have close links with industry and it is expected that a similar amount of funding will be raised from companies and other funding agencies.
David Clark, EPSRC director for research and innovation, said that this would provide the centres with a degree of stability, giving them more flexibility in the projects they undertake. In return, the departments that would previously have received separate grants would be forced to work together and the centres would have to manage themselves in a more coordinated way.
"We started with manufacturing as it is well matched to this way of working," Dr Clark explained. "There is already strong engagement with industry and manufacturing researchers are a pragmatic group."
Other manufacturing departments could still apply for funding through the usual channels.
Launching the centres, science minister Lord Sainsbury said: "Concentrating the manufacturing budget in fewer places will lead to greater impact. We need to see a good return on our investment with strong collaboration with industry."
But Peter Cotgreave, director of lobby group Save British Science, warned that reducing the amount of responsive-mode funding available could wreck opportunities for researchers outside the 12 centres to develop new skills and research areas.
"There has to be enough flexibility for institutions to be promoted and relegated."
The centres were chosen by the EPSRC on their research portfolios backed by their track records. A further ten centres will be created in the next three years The 12 IMRCs are at the universities of: Bath (engineering and management focus); Cambridge (engineering design and a centre for cross-sector manufacturing and e-manufacturing); Cranfield (transport, construction and cross-sector manufacturing); Liverpool (management and e-manufacturing and a centre for laser processing); Loughborough (construction); Nottingham (transport, metals and textiles); Reading (construction); Salford (construction); University College London (bioprocessing); and Warwick (construction, transport, aerospace, cross-sector manufacturing and management).