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The 'dual support' system

Public funding for research in English higher education is administered under a 'dual support' system.

Under this system, we provide annual funding for English institutions in the form of a ‘block grant’, and the UK Research Councils provide funding for specific research projects and programmes. 

HEFCE funding supports higher education institutions' (HEIs) research infrastructure and enables ground-breaking research in keeping with their mission.

‘Quality-related’ research funding

We distribute the majority of our funds for research on the basis of research quality, and take into account the volume and relative cost of research in different areas.

This is called ‘quality-related research (QR) funding’. To assess the quality of research for funding purposes, we and the other UK funding bodies, run a periodic assessment exercise. The most recent was the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014).

The results of the REF were published in December 2015 and have been used to determine funding from academic year 2015-16 onwards.

Each year, the Government tells us how much money will be available to allocate in its grant letter. This sets out the total level of funding and associated guidance on policy priorities.

In 2016-17 we will distribute £1.6 billion quality-related research (QR) funding. This breaks down into the following elements:

 Final allocations (£ millions)
Mainstream quality-related research (QR) including London weighting 1,070
QR Research Degree Programme (RDP) supervision 240
QR charity support fund 198
QR business research element 64
QR funding for National Research Libraries 7
Total recurrent research 1,578

Full details of these figures, and the annual quality-related research funding data are published as part of our annual funding allocations.

We also provide funding to cover infrastructure costs:

Principles of quality-related funding

  • We allocate funding selectively by reference to robust judgements of research quality.
  • We fund research of the highest quality wherever (and in whichever discipline) it is found.
  • Our allocation process is robust and transparent, based upon clearly defined criteria and avoiding undue complexity.

Why this method?

Our method for calculating research funding enables a degree of research stability and independence not provided by other funding sources.

The method is stable because the results of the research assessment are used over a prolonged period.  It gives institutions independence because they can do what they want with the money and it is not directed to particular research programmes. 

It also ensures that universities: 

  • drive innovation and respond flexibly to changing needs as autonomous institutions
  • invest in new and emerging areas
  • grow and support new talent and protect important research areas. 

The flexibility of this funding provides universities with the resources to: 

  • support the cutting edge of knowledge
  • sustain responsive research
  • sustain a world-class research environment
  • develop people and skills.

Page last updated 6 May 2016