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The study was jointly commissioned by HEFCE and Universities UK, and independently produced by Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) and the Centre for Business Research (CBR), University of Cambridge.

QR is the main form of research funding supplied by HEFCE. It is based on institutional research quality, as determined by our assessment processes, the Research Assessment Exercise and Research Excellence Framework. The report shows the wide range of research functions which universities use this funding to support.

In 2014-15 HEFCE will have distributed £1.6 billion of QR funding to English higher education institutions (HEIs). Despite the scale of the funding, however, the important activities and infrastructural support QR affords often go unrecognised. It is challenging to isolate and identify the specific role of QR within a highly diverse and strongly aggregated funding landscape involving support from research councils, funding bodies, government departments, industry, charities and international sources.

Through a combination of econometric research and case study interviews with 25 HEIs, PACEC and CBR offer an in-depth view of the role and importance of QR funding. The report evidences the qualitative impact of QR on individual HEIs and their research activities, and assesses the relationship between total QR and third-stream income [Note 1].

The report identifies four main models for distributing QR funding within the case study HEIs, reflecting different degrees of centralisation. Irrespective of individual QR distribution models, universities universally identified QR funding as an important element of the dual support system [Note 2], and it commanded wide support from case study respondents across the full range of academic disciplines.

Specifically:

  • QR is valued as a stable source of funding that enables long-term strategic development of research and the development of critical mass research capability.
  • The greater predictability and certainty of QR funding is important for developing institutional research strategies and sustaining research competitiveness.
  • QR provides the opportunity to allocate resources to priority research areas, to new and emerging areas of research, and more generally to those areas of research which may not easily secure financial support from Research Councils.
  • QR is widely used to attract and lever research funding into HEIs, including matched funding in bids for Research Council, charity or European Union funding.

Welcoming the report, David Sweeney, HEFCE’s Director Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange, said:

‘This report demonstrates the sector’s commitment to the dual support system and its appreciation of the value of QR within that system. HEFCE will continue to work with the other funders of research and with our partners in the sector to champion dual support, and to make the case for a sustained commitment to the public funding of university research.’

Notes

  1. Third-stream income is a measure of benefit to external organisations, as reflected in their willingness to pay for contract and collaborative research, consultancy, intellectual property, continuing professional development and other forms of engagement with HEIs. Evidence in this area was derived from the Higher Education – Business Community Interaction survey.
  2. Public funding for research in English higher education is administered under a 'dual support' system. Under this system, HEFCE provides block grant funding for institutions to support their research infrastructure and enable ground-breaking research in keeping with their own mission. The Research Councils, charities, the European Union and government departments provide grants for specific research projects and programmes.
  3. 'A review of QR funding in English HEIs' is available on the HEFCE web-site.