Hard line pays dividends (but not hard cash)

Grant awards success rates rise but income falls for some research-intensives. Elizabeth Gibney writes

November 15, 2012

Research council income at the UK’s most research-intensive institutions has fallen even while the rate at which applications were successful has increased.

Data compiled by Times Higher Education show that for seven of the 10 institutions receiving the largest income from all UK research councils, excluding the Science and Technology Facilities Council, income fell in 2011-12 compared with 2010-11.

The top recipient of research council cash, Imperial College London, received £76.7 million in 2011-12, down from £94.5 million the previous academic year.

As was the case last year, almost a third of the institution’s applications were successful.

The University of Cambridge suffered the biggest fall in income within the top 10: its research council funding fell by 34 per cent, from £85.2 million in 2010-11 to £56.2 million in 2011-12.

Cambridge received almost the same number of awards as in the previous year (136 compared with 138), but their cumulative value was much smaller.

However, fewer applications (371 compared with 414) meant that the institution’s success rate actually increased, rising from 33 per cent in 2010-11 to 37 per cent in 2011-12.

Across the sector the average success rate rose from per cent to 30 per cent, reflecting a reduction in the number of applications made by the vast majority of UK institutions.

Marked increases

Within the top 10, only the universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh and University College London received more funding.

Edinburgh’s income rose by 17 per cent to £66.7 million, UCL’s grew by 8 per cent to £71 million, while Birmingham’s increased by 35 per cent to £30 million.

Further down the list, there are even more marked increases. Funding at the University of Liverpool rose dramatically, almost doubling from £12.3 million to £24 million.

Grant income at the University of St Andrews, which left the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities last month, rose by 49 per cent, while outside the top 20, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s funding increased by 138 per cent.

The University of Bath, another institution recently to exit the 1994 Group, increased its research council income from £7.6 million to £14.9 million in 2011-12, a 96 per cent rise.

This is reflected in a leap in the institution’s success rate, which rose from 31 per cent to 42 per cent.

Jane Millar, pro vice-chancellor for research at Bath, said she was pleased with the successes, “especially at a time when funding is getting tough”.

She said that the institution’s system of internal academic peer review and “outstanding academic appointments” had made a difference.

Within the top 20, the University of Exeter, which in August moved from the 1994 Group to the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, also significantly increased its income, from £10.4 million in 2010-11 to £15 million in 2011-12.

Sean Fielding, director of research and knowledge transfer at Exeter, attributed this to heavy investment in interdisciplinary themes and projects “to reflect research council priorities”, including more than £200 million spent on infrastructure and staff over the past three years.

He also acknowledged the role of Exeter’s research development team in the higher success rate (up seven percentage points). The team worked to ensure proposals “fit the bill and deliver impact”, and implemented internal peer review of grant proposals.

Not the complete picture

Some of the institutions with falling research council income figures contested the findings.

According to analysis by THE, the value of awards to the University of Leeds fell from £34.5 million in 2010-11 to £21.3 million in 2011-12, with both the number of applications and awards declining.

A spokesman for the university said the figures did “not give the complete picture of research council funding received by the university” because they did not include STFC cash and collaborative grants with other institutions.


Grant applications: how the leading institutions fared
Institution 2011 rankAmount (£m)% change since 2010-11Success rate % by number of awardsApplications% change since 2010-11% change since 2009-10
  2009-102010-112011-12 2009-102010-112011-122009-102010-112011-12  
Imperial College London1919577-19293231473440360-18-24
University College London47066718262834450495406-18-10
University of Edinburgh650576717302634428389342-12-20
University of Oxford3686764-53029335074294331-15
University of Cambridge2608556-34303337412414371-10-10
University of Manchester5534240-6283034465352281-20-40
University of Southampton7324140-32234333089218-22-29
University of Bristol%3D9263737-12834328302289-4-12
University of Birmingham16242230352324302822452554-10
King’s College London112632-16182128253267207-22-18
University of Sheffield102034-23262837257239188-21-
University of Glasgow142323251024332292052123-7
University of Liverpool2518122494183223414416313-30
University of Nottingham12253023-25212436329252238-6-28
University of Leeds%3D9303421-382026418330244-26-42
University of St Andrews2312131949252537118106104-2-12
Newcastle University13142317-212929209194174-10-17
Cardiff University 21161316212030351881501564-17
University of Warwick18141815-17223132245208142-32-42
University of Exeter11101544202936214192171-11-20
"Notes: figures rounded to nearest million; STFC income excluded; ESRC data response mode only; University of Liverpool figures include Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine"
Source: UK research councils. Analysis by %3Cem%3ETimes Higher Education%3C/em%3E

• For the full figures, see related file, right.

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