Introduction to Research Funding

Who Funds Research?

Research is funded by a range of different organisations and bodies, including national research councils, government agencies, charities, and business and industry. Different funders are looking to fund different types of activity and provide funding in different ways. While UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the national funding agency investing in science and research in the UK – funds 80% of the total cost of research, other funders may only offer 50% of the costs. Some funders only provide funding for travel, events, equipment and consumables, while other will let you use funds to cover staff costs.

Knowing what your funder wants and how they fund research is an important first step in finding funding for research. Before commencing any project, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the funder looking to achieve?
  2. Can I contribute to their mission and aims?
  3. Can I align my work with the requirements of the funder?

Funding in the UK

Research is predominantly funded in the UK through three mechanisms:

  • Quality Related (QR) Funding. This is distributed to institutions via Research England and the devolved governments. Funding is distributed on an annual basis and is determined by the Research Excellence Framework (REF).
  • Research Project Funding. This is funding that prioritises research ideas. Funding can be both short and long term, although there is an increasing focus on funding longer and larger projects. Examples of funders for project-based research include: the UK Research Councils, the Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, and Royal Society.
  • Fellowship Funding. This funding stream prioritises the skills development of individuals, with a significant focus on early career researchers. Funding is intended to act as fast-track for exceptionally talented individuals to build a programme of research and develop their research leadership skills.
UK Research and Innovation British Academy Royal Society 
Leverhulme Trust Wellcome Trust National Institute for Health Research

In addition to the above there are a range of small and specialist funders for specific topics and disciplines. To discover more about finding funding opportunities like these go to our Finding Funding Page.

Funding for International Research

Research is an increasingly international endeavour and developing international partners and projects can be essential to cutting edge research. Finding funders that fund international collaboration can be difficult, as it is frequently dependent on agreements between two or more international funding bodies. In other cases, the extent of the international collaboration may be limited by specific financial restrictions. Always check funder guidance to see if they support international working.
More recently, significant funding has been dedicated to research addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). The UK’s Newton Fund and Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) are both dedicated to support research capability development in countries in receipt of official development assistance (ODA).

In addition to these project-based funds, there is also funding for international mobility, residencies, and fellowships that support both outgoing and incoming researcher mobility.
Key Funders for international research:

UKRI International Newton Fund Leverhulme Trust International Academic Fellowships
UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships European Commission Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships TU Global Challenge Research