Twenty research-led universities attracted more than 63 per cent of the grants on offer from the research councils, an analysis by Times Higher Education shows.
In a league table based on the number of awards institutions secured from six councils, the top 20 took nearly two thirds of the total number of grants awarded in the 2007-08 financial year.
The bottom 20 netted less than 1 per cent of the number on offer.
The table (see the downloadable excel file on the right of this page) is based on the number of awards institutions received from every research council excluding the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which had not released its data as Times Higher Education went to press.
The analysis, which excludes institutions that lodged fewer than ten applications, shows that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are neck and neck in the race to secure the most grants, with Oxford pipping Cambridge by one grant to take the top spot, with 194 awards from 5 applications.
Among the top 20 institutions the University of Warwick is the most successful at converting applications into awards. It converted 3 applications into 105 awards, increasing its success rate from about 33 per cent in 2006-07 to 38 per cent in 2007-08. Oxford came second with a success rate of 37 per cent.
Manchester was the most prolific at making grant applications. It lodged 620 applications over the course of year and managed a 28 per cent conversion rate - no higher than the average success rate across all institutions.
The universities of Durham and York were the only two outside the Russell Group of larger research-led universities to make the top 20.
Of all the institutions that lodged more than ten grant applications, the research council-funded Babraham Institute and British Antarctic Survey had the highest overall success rates with 56 per cent and 48 per cent respectively. The Institute of Education (42 per cent), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Warwick followed.
The University of Teesside was the least successful. It lodged 13 applications and received nothing.
Among the more teaching-focused universities, Roehampton University performed best, winning eight grants with a success rate of 31 per cent.
Mark Smith, pro vice-chancellor for research (science and medicine) at Warwick, said it was important not to overinterpret annual results but he believed that a new research strategy instituted at the university was having a positive effect. He said that Warwick's new vice-chancellor, Nigel Thrift, "has undoubtedly raised (the bar) on what he expects the university to deliver, and this is the first year where his strategy is having an effect.
"The creation of two pro vice-chancellor posts (covering science and medicine and arts and social studies) allows us more time to get stuck into the detail of our portfolios and take an active interest in selecting the grants to go through," he explained.
Gary McCulloch, assistant director for research at the Institute of Education, said his institution was also making better use of senior researchers in developing grant applications.
"It has not been about excluding applications but improving them ... we have senior people giving frank advice to colleagues and a responsive research culture," he said.
Jane Broadbent, deputy vice-chancellor at Roehampton, said Roehampton too had focused on supporting applicants. "We are basically aiming to support people and help them - it is not rocket science," she said.
Cliff Hardcastle, the deputy vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at Teesside, said his university had an "extremely good" level of success in winning funding from non-research council sources that was not reflected in the data. He added that a new research strategy was on the way.