Oxford knocks Imperial off research income top spot

Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow and York enter top 10 after £120 million grant for quantum technology

October 29, 2015
University of Oxford courtyard

Imperial College London has been toppled from its top position in a ranking of research council income for only the second time in six years.

In a year when a surge of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funding meant big rises in income across most of the research-intensive universities, Imperial’s income fell by nearly a third.

The university did not provide comment on the reasons for the fall in time for Times Higher Education’s deadline.

The University of Oxford climbed from second to first place. Ian Walmsley, Oxford’s pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation, said that the university had not put in more applications for grants and the increase in funding was due to a “few exceptionally large awards”.

This included the EPSRC’s £120 million Quantum Technology Hubs, awarded last November and led by the universities of Oxford, Birmingham, Glasgow and York. All had substantial leaps in income this year.

Tim Softley, Birmingham’s pro vice-chancellor for research and knowledge transfer, said that he was “delighted” with the university’s appearance into the top 10.

He said that 2014-15 had been a “record” year for the value of Birmingham’s applications to the research councils and other sources of funding.

But he added: “We recognise that further increases in research income will be brought about by improved quality as much as quantity and are reviewing our internal peer review mechanisms to ensure a continued focus on high quality applications.”

Professor Softley said that individual academics did not have income targets, but during 2014-15, Birmingham had introduced goals for each discipline, although this was “probably too recent to have had a real impact on last year’s figures”, he added.

Grant income targets for individual academics now exist in some form at about one in six universities, a THE investigation revealed earlier this year.

Deborah Smith, pro vice-chancellor for research at York, said that her university’s strong performance had partly been thanks to the “strengthening of internal monitoring and peer-review processes”.

The 2014 research excellence framework results allow for the creation of a crude measure of how effectively researchers at each university apply to the research councils (see table below).

The average income per researcher is divided by the university’s grade point average score in the REF, to control for their differing quality. On this measure, Imperial does best because average income per researcher is even higher than would be predicted by its top REF GPA.

However, this measure of efficiency does not take into account subject mix, as scientists tend to get larger grants than humanities scholars, potentially skewing upwards the income of science-heavy institutions.

View the full spreadsheet of success rates by institution


Top 10 by overall research council income in 2014-2015

Institution Success rate (%) Income 2014‑15 (£) % change on 2013-14 Income per REF eligible researcher (£) 2014 REF GPA Income per researcher per GPA point (£)
University of Oxford 32 138,548,682 48 49,927 3.34 14,948
University College London 30 89,011,293 14 31,677 3.22 9,837
Imperial College London 27 79,213,295 -31 57,904 3.36 17,233
University of Cambridge 32 76,458,844 35 34,817 3.33 10,456
University of Manchester 32 69,892,046 20 34,911 3.16 11,048
University of Birmingham 27 60,618,055 143 45,923 3.07 14,959
University of Glasgow 25 58,778,852 116 44,801 3.1 14,452
University of Edinburgh 31 57,633,889 14 27,380 3.18 8,610
University of Bristol 29 53,952,821 0 43,301 3.18 13,617
University of York 35 46,097,047 81 53,477 3.17 16,870

Best and worst by success rate

10 highest Apps SR (%) 10 lowest Apps SR (%)
Loughborough 60 43 Royal Veterinary College 24 0
Lancaster 100 40 Portsmouth 25 12
Heriot-Watt 73 38 Manchester Metropolitan 24 13
Warwick 164 36 Stirling 45 13
York 133 35 Northumbria 25 16
Nottingham 200 35 Brunel 59 19
St Andrews 90 34 Aberystwyth 30 20
City 27 33 Hull 29 21
Cambridge 366 32 Bangor 47 21
Manchester 313 32 Surrey 86 22

Note: Only institutions putting in 20 or more applications have been included


Print headline: Oxford eclipses Imperial to take income top spot

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Reader's comments (1)

I just wanted to comment that the success rate published by EPSRC is hugely inflated. EPSRC does pre-panel rejections. The success rate is only considered only for those proposals that went to the panel review stages. Also, the success rate is influenced by other investments such as research centers, capital investments, or some calls that are by invitations only. The success rate for standard research proposals, which is the most important factor for normal academics, is much lower. Take the most recent Engineering Panel for example: http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/NGBOViewPanel.aspx?PanelId=1-2JLAWB The success rate is only 20%.


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