The proportion of grant applications to the MRC that were successful in 2010-11 stood at 18 per cent, compared with 19 per cent in 2009-10 and 21 per cent in 2008-09.
The fall came despite the research council's receipt of 100 fewer applications, bringing the total to 1,377. The MRC was also the only research council to have its resource budget protected in real terms in last year's Comprehensive Spending Review.
Last week, Times Higher Education reported that the success rate for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council had risen to 36 per cent on the back of its scheme to limit applications from serially unsuccessful applicants.
But in an interview with THE earlier this year, Sir John Savill, the chief executive of the MRC, said he was reluctant to impose comparable measures.
Anne Dixon, head of research funding and operations at the MRC, said the council was working with universities to encourage them to self-manage demand for grants.
The lowest MRC success rate - 12 per cent - was for New Investigator Research Grants. Sir John has said that one of his priorities is to boost the success rates of early career researchers. The success rate for MRC fellowship applications also fell from 22 to 19 per cent.
Of the universities that applied for more than 10 grants, the most successful was St George's, University of London. Of 15 applications, 40 per cent were successful.
The largest share of the £252 million distributed by the MRC in grants and fellowships went to the University of Cambridge, which received £36.4 million, with a success rate of 28 per cent.
The least successful among universities that submitted more than 10 applications was the University of Surrey, which had no successful applications among the 11 it submitted.
Just 7 per cent of the University of Southampton's 30 applications were successful, while the universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Strathclyde all recorded success rates of 9 per cent.