Ground-breaking university research depends on block grant funding

Government money to support university research is making a real difference to our everyday lives and helping universities respond quickly to emerging challenges facing the world.

Block grant funding - known as quality-related (QR) funding and paid as part of the block grant from the UK's higher education funding bodies - gives institutions the freedom to undertake risky and ground-breaking research that may otherwise go unsupported. The grant also helps to ensure that research from the UK continues to punch well above its weight among the G8 countries. Grants for more specific projects and programmes are provided by the Research Councils, charities, the European Union and government departments, as part of the 'dual-support' system.

The report from Universities UK and the UK higher education funding councils - Securing world-class research in UK universities: Exploring the impact of block grant funding - highlights how breakthroughs have been made in areas such as tackling Alzheimer's disease and treating diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes thanks to this source of research funding.

The examples in this report are wide-ranging, demonstrating how universities make use of this funding in a number of different ways, from the sciences to the arts.

Case studies include:

  • The research team at the University of Aberdeen who have been developing a treatment to reduce the mental decline caused by Alzheimer's disease. 700,000 people in the UK alone suffer from dementia. QR funding was essential in providing the infrastructure and expertise required.
  • Dr Aisha Gill, a senior lecturer in Criminology at Roehampton University, whose work on social justice has been supported through QR investment. Her work has been widely recognised, providing expert advice to government and the voluntary sector on 'honour' killings and forced marriage.
  • The UK's Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP), which was established by Durham University in 2000 using QR funding. The IPPP develops much of the analysis behind the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. This giant scientific instrument is helping to seek answers to some of the universe's greatest secrets.
  • The Centre for NanoHealth at Swansea University, which looks to advance early detection and treatment of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Thanks to QR funding, this centre - first of its kind in Europe - has had the required support to make significant breakthroughs in tackling these diseases.
  • The University of Exeter, home to the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS). While Middle East and Islamic Studies enjoys a high level of topical and political interest, the number of academics working on these subjects in UK universities remains very small. QR funding has allowed this institute to make significant contributions to a range of key debates over the last 10 years, including the Islamic radicalisation of British-born citizens.

Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said: "This report brings to the fore the vital role of block grant funding in ensuring that the UK continues to produce world-class research. Without this funding, the many medical, social and global advances that have been made would never have happened.

"Indeed, it is absolutely crucial that we sustain the current balance of investment across dual support. This will be vital to ensure we have a sustainable and dynamic research base, underpinning our knowledge economy and supporting economic growth."

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said: "This report clearly demonstrates how block grant provided by HEFCE and the other UK funding bodies, within the dual support system, is essential to the success of the higher education research base. It shows how the significant investment in higher education through QR funding brings long-term and important returns."


1. The report, Securing world-class research in UK universities: Exploring the impact of block grant funding was launched this morning at the Royal Academy of Engineering, with speeches from Professor Steve Smith, Sir Alan Langlands and Lord Rees, President, Royal Society. It is available to download at:

2. In addition to the case studies listed above, the report also features examples from: The University of York, Glasgow Caledonian University, The University of Bath, The University of Sunderland, The University of East Anglia, The University of Reading, Lancaster University, The University of Oxford, The University of Bristol, The University of Kent, University College London, The University of Edinburgh, Brunel University, The Royal Veterinary College, Goldsmiths, University of London, Imperial College and The University of Salford.

3. The report relates to funding for research (in Scotland this funding is known as the 'Research Excellence Grant') from all the UK higher education funding bodies. These are the: Higher Education Funding Council for England; Higher Education Funding Council for Wales; Scottish Funding Council; Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland.

4. Public funding for research is administered under a 'dual support' system. In this system the funding bodies provide recurring annual 'block grant' funding while grants for specific projects and programmes are provided by the Research Councils, the EU and government departments.

5. Universities UK is the major representative body and membership organisation for the higher education sector. It represents the UK's universities and some higher education colleges. Its 133 members are the executive heads of these institutions. Universities UK works closely with policy makers and key education stakeholders to advance the interests of universities and to spread good practice throughout the higher education sector. Founded in 1918 and formerly known as the Committee for Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), Universities UK celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2008.

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