University of Oxford tops grant funding list

UK universities see drop in research council income overall

October 6, 2016
Young scientist at work in laboratory
Source: Alamy

The University of Oxford has remained at the top of a ranking of UK research grant income for the second year running despite securing a third less funding than during the previous cycle.

Less grant money was available overall from the UK’s six research councils in 2015-16 than in 2014-15 because of a surge in funding for quantum technologies and capital projects in 2014-15.

Oxford, which was recently ranked top of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, secured more than £90 million from the research councils in 2015-16, down from £138 million in 2014-15.

Ian Walmsley, Oxford’s pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation, said that the institution had secured a number of large grants in 2014-15, including £38 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Quantum Technology Hubs Programme, which doled out £120 million in total.

“We were exceptionally fortunate in winning several large grants in 2014-15. Our underlying trend of growth in research funding across all funders continues, and we are working hard to maintain that position,” he added.

In total, £1.1 billion was awarded to UK universities in 2015-16, down from £1.3 billion in 2014-15. The majority of universities with the most grant income earners saw a reduction in funding over the past year. Some, including the University of Birmingham – 11th for grant income – saw funding tumble by more than 40 per cent.

Tim Softley, pro vice-chancellor for research and knowledge transfer at Birmingham, said that the institution had, like Oxford, benefited from a large grant from the EPSRC’s quantum technologies programme in 2014-15, which pushed up that year’s total.

Top 10 universities for research grant income

Institution Success rate 2015-16 (%) Success rate 2014-15 (%) Income 2015-16 (£) Income 2014-15 (£)  % change in funding 2015-16 v 2014-15 
University of Oxford 31 32 90,682,865 138,548,682 -35
University College London 28 30 85,792,320 89,011,293 -4
Imperial College London 25 27 62,970,691 79,213,295 -21
University of Cambridge 28 32 54,489,167 76,458,844 -29
University of Edinburgh 28 31 48,464,264 57,633,889 -16
University of Southampton 33 29 47,986,612 45,031,136 7
University of Nottingham  34 35 40,893,390 35,360,628 16
University of Manchester 27 32 40,687,409 69,892,046 -42
University of Leeds 23 27 40,438,935 32,485,584 24
King’s College London 26 22 38,881,985 39,183,173 -1

Source: UK research councils

See full table of UK grant success rates by university

“We have not matched that with another grant of that magnitude this year,” he said. Despite the overall reduction in income, applications from the university’s scholars were more successful in 2015-16 than in 2014-15. Professor Softley attributed this to the fact that more attention was being paid to internal peer review of applications before submission.

Funding fell by a similar proportion at the University of Manchester. Luke Georghiou, vice-president for research and innovation at the institution, put this down to the drop in funding available and to the comparative lack of capital grants up for grabs in this cycle.

“Our own figures for the financial year just gone show that revenue awards are up, and we recorded a healthy increase in research income,” Professor Georghiou added.

Only three universities in the top 10 managed to increase research council funding in 2015-16 compared with the previous year. At the University of Leeds, where funding grew by almost a quarter, Lisa Roberts, deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation, said that there had been a “step change” in how the institution addressed research council funding calls.

“We’ve been making some outstanding appointments…we’ve identified and supported our interdisciplinary strengths, and we’re investing heavily in research support, facilities and technology platforms – all resulting in Leeds making a step change in how we address research council priorities and how we help to tackle major global challenges,” she said.

The University of Nottingham and the University of Southampton were the other institutions registering a rise in research council funding in 2015-16 compared with 2014-15.

Universities that experienced significant falls in funding over the same period included Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh.

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