Golden diamond shines at raking in research riches

August 4, 2006

Heavyweight universities dominate The Times Higher 's table of funding award winners but, reports Anthea Lipsett, there are a few surprises

The concentration of public research funding in the heavyweight research universities was confirmed this week in The Times Higher' s roundup of research council grant winners.

But there are also a few surprises among those institutions where academics are most successful in securing research council grants - with Middlesex University, for example, emerging top of the award winners for the arts and humanities.

Our table collates for the first time all available figures from the research councils on how well universities fared in securing research grants. The latest figures for 2005 were published this week.

The table includes only universities, as opposed to other research organisations, and only those that won at least ten research grants from one of the research councils.

Drawing a comparison between research councils is difficult because they treat the figures differently. But, mostly, the research council figures pull together data for responsive mode grants - awarded in response to academic proposals - with statistics for all other types of grants.

The "golden diamond" of research-led universities maintain their status as the best in the UK at winning grants.

Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford universities, University College London and Imperial College London do well across all the research councils.

Oxford is among the top five universities to win grants from both the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Cambridge won most grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Imperial won the most grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, came second in securing funding from the MRC and fifth in winning grants from the BBSRC.

But the universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds and Southampton, and the London School of Economics and King's College London also feature in the top five grant winners for several of the research councils.

Southampton University received the most grants from the Natural Environment Research Council, and Middlesex University won the most grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

UCL emerges top of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council grant holders' table. We have treated this separately because it offers little responsive mode funding and its timescale for awarding grants is also much longer.

Julia King, principal of Imperial's faculty of engineering, put the institution's success down to the calibre of researchers recruited and the support provided to them when applying for research grants.

"We also try to mentor staff - so other staff will read their grant applications and act as if they were referees."

She added that Imperial worked on its relationships with the research councils to find out what programme managers were interested in.

Richard Tufnell, dean of Middlesex's School of Arts and Education, said:

"Our strategy over recent years has been to apply for all types of arts and humanities research funding, whatever the size of the grants on offer. We can now see this strategy paying off."

Catherine Quinn, Oxford's research services director, said: "Oxford is competitive in this area (winning grants) for simple reasons: the sheer quality of the researchers and the research they do, as well as the effort they put into making successful applications for external funding. But the university also takes a very active role in providing support services and infrastructure, as well as investing in helping new research get off the ground through internal seed funding."

This directed internal investment was part of an overall strategy to maintain Oxford's international competitiveness, she said.

Dave Delph, UCL's vice-provost (research), put his university's success down to three factors. "We have damn good people, we have tried to improve strategically our infrastructure and we have restructured our activities across disciplinary boundaries. The breadth of UCL research does help and that's probably true of the other major multi-faculty universities."

John Fisher, deputy vice-chancellor of Leeds University, said: "The University of Leeds' success reflects our standing and breadth of research excellence in environmental sciences and earth sciences."

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