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Funding: Through Research Councils

NIC Document

Summary

Key innovation research is typically funded by the seven UK Research Councils, of which five are directly or partially relevant to the medical and healthcare sector. This guide looks at what they do and how they fund research and training, mostly focusing on academics within universities or teaching hospitals.

In brief

  1. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  2. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  3. Medical Research Council (MRC)
  4. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  5. Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Introduction

The UK Research Councils work together under a strategic partnership called Research Councils UK (RCUK). The Councils are the main public investors in fundamental (academic) research in the UK, with interests ranging from biomedicine and particle physics, to the environment, engineering, and economics.


Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

BBSRC funds research aimed at increasing understanding of how living organisms function and behave, from individual molecules and cells, to populations and ecological systems. You can view details of BBSRC’s current Research Priorities on its website.

Funding Responsive Mode:

The bulk of funding is ‘responsive mode’, where researchers can apply at any time, but applications should address one of the council’s priority areas.

Initiatives:

Occasionally committees will identify areas that need specific funding outside normal responsive funding and will set up a research initiative in that area. Such initiatives are directed towards specific objectives, are associated with a certain amount of funding and run for a set period.

Cross-committee Priorities:

The committees also recognise that research is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary and that some research areas are important to all committees. As a consequence, you can target bids against cross-committee priority areas.

Studentships:

BBSRC supports postgraduate training to help ensure the flow of highly qualified people into research careers. BBSRC awards studentship funding directly to universities and research organisations, but not to students. Fellowships: BBSRC awards up to 25 fellowships each year in a variety of different programmes. Equipment and facilities: As well as supporting research, BBSRC can provide support for equipment or facilities costs.


Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, and invests in a wide range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering. Funding Responsive Mode Research: You can apply at any time for responsive mode funding for topics that fit within the broad scope of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Key features are:

  • No closing dates – applications may be submitted at any time
  • No constraints on the field of research, providing the major part falls within EPSRC’s remit. The track record of the lead investigator is a key element, linked to their creative vision
  • The main criterion against which proposals are assessed is research quality, as defined by independent peer review.
  • Fellowships: EPSRC has an annual call for Research Fellowships

Targeted at outstanding individuals at different stages of their careers, they provide the freedom to pursue research interests full-time. Competition for these Fellowships is very keen. You can find more information on the opportunities provided on the EPSRC website. Postgraduate Training: EPSRC funds postgraduate training at both Doctoral and Masters levels. It does not give money to students directly, but funds universities through Doctoral Training Accounts (DTAs) and Collaborative Training Accounts (CTAs). DTAs are targeted at the academic end of the student spectrum; CTAs support training with strong links to industry.


Medical Research Council (MRC)

MRC supports research across the biomedical spectrum, from fundamental lab-based science to clinical trials, and in all major disease areas. MRC works closely with the NHS and the UK Health Departments.

Funding

The full range of funding options are available on the MRC website, however the main opportunities are:

Research Grants: MRC research grants are suitable for short- and long-term focused projects and also for broader-based research programmes. They can also be used to support method development or development and continuation of research facilities, and collaborations of more than one group, or more than one institution. A research grant can be awarded for any period of up to five years, but those of two years or less are for proof of principle or pilot work only.

Collaboration Grants: Available to holders of MRC Research Grants, Career Establishment Grants, and Senior Fellowships, wishing to promote and enhance collaboration between themselves and other researchers in complementary research. Support can be requested for any period of between two to five years. Collaboration grants can range from around £50,000 to £1 million if they involve large capital items.

New Investigator Awards: The New Investigator Research Grant is aimed at researchers who are capable of becoming principal investigators, and are now ready to take the next step towards that goal. The scheme can provide talented early-career scientists with a route into a permanent academic position. A New Investigator Research Grant is also a potential source of research funding for fellows whose awards only cover a personal salary. New Investigator Research Grants provide funding for three years. They are not renewable, and cannot usually be extended. The maximum amount of funding that can be applied for is £600,000.

Fellowships and Postgraduate Studentship Schemes: These schemes are similar to those from other Research Councils, with resources available for exceptional researchers funded under Fellowships and for Postgraduate Studentships.


Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

ESRC funds research and training in social and economic issues. Its budget funds researchers in academic institutions and policy research institutes throughout the UK. It also supports postgraduate students. ESRC has seven research themes of which three impact on the medical sector. These are:
  • Economic Performance & Development
  • Lifecourse, Lifestyles and Health
  • Environmental & Human Behaviour

Funding

Research Grants: ESRC makes awards ranging from £15,000 to £1.5 million (100% FEC) to eligible institutions, allowing individuals or research teams to undertake anything from a small project to a large-scale survey. The choice of research topic is open, provided it falls within the ESRC's remit. It doesn’t have to be relevant to the ESRC Strategic Framework.

Postgraduate Training and Fellowships: ESRC invested £56 million in 2007/8 to support training and development of social scientists throughout their careers. The main funding mechanisms and opportunities are:
  • Mid Career Development Fellowships
  • Professorial Fellowships
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships
  • Research Grant Linked Studentships
  • Researcher Development Initiative

Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

STFC provides support for research, research infrastructure, training, knowledge transfer, and public understanding activities through a variety of funding schemes and activities. STFC has 12 research themes, however the most relevant theme to medical research is ‘Biology and Medicine’.

Funding Fellowships: STFC has two main fellowships schemes for researchers who do not yet have a permanent academic position:
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships
  • Advanced Fellowships

Grant-funded research programmes

STFC offers a wide range of funding opportunities which includes:

  • Facility Research and Development Scheme – for the development of UK national laser, neutron, and synchrotron facilities
  • Project Research and Development (PRD) Scheme – intended to develop the capabilities needed to underpin UK science and technology leadership in future STFC projects
  • PIPSS (Industrial Programme Support Scheme) – funding collaborations between UK researchers and UK industry or other eligible partners.
  • Technology Partnership Programme – as part of the cross-Council programmes on Stem Cells, Brain Science, and Post Genomics and Proteomics, the Technology Partnership Programme is designed to link the Councils’ expertise with that of outside experts in the biological or medical fields to devise new technologies that will help solve science problems within these fields.
  • Follow on Fund – aims to support the commercialisation of research ideas and provides funds to enable these ideas to be brought to a stage where commercial opportunities can be created.