Reviewed: March 2020

Since 2008, medical research charities have invested nearly £12 billion in UK universities. In 2018, 87% of all UK medical research funded by AMRC’s members took place directly in universities.

The Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) underpins charity investment in university research across England (similar funds are provided in the devolved nations). The CRSF was first put forward in the 2004 Science & innovation investment framework[1] and was introduced in 2006. Since then the fund has supported significant charity funding of research in universities, despite its value not keeping track with increasing levels of charity investment nor inflation. The sustainability of charity funded research in universities is a key advocacy priority for AMRC on behalf of its members.

The CRSF allows universities to effectively leverage research funding from charities by enabling the recovery of some of the indirect costs of research that charities do not pay. These costs include estates, shared IT and administration overheads. The CRSF is administered via quality-related (QR) funding and is awarded on the basis of charity funding received the previous year.

The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 set out the criteria identifying the research funding that is eligible for the CRSF. These criteria include that the research should be for the public good, that the funder should have a published research strategy and that the research should be competitively assessed to be of high quality. All of AMRC’s member charities are eligible for the CRSF due to our quality standards set out in our membership criteria.

The CRSF was introduced as a partnership between charities, government and universities to support charity research funding towards sustainability, enabling universities in receipt of charity grants to achieve a higher level of full economic costs (FEC). AMRC supports the principle that universities should aim for a sustainable research base. This requires all institutions to have an understanding of the full costs of their research activity and to be transparent in the way they account for these costs.

Research in UK HEIs is funded from a variety of sources, with different levels of resource, priorities, objectives and histories. Charities differ from other funders in the way they fund research. They are independent from government and their purpose is to channel generous donations for the public and others to support research for public benefit that will improve health and wellbeing. Charities must take into account their own research priorities, the expectations of their donors and the needs and opportunities of their communities, including patients and the public. In response, they have developed many different funding schemes that provide both short- and long-term support for people and projects, research units and centres, capital including major equipment and buildings, and challenge-led strategic funding calls. AMRC expects HEIs to take the unique way that charities fund research into account when pricing the research they support.

The next two or three years will be a significant period of change for the UK’s research sector with the impact of Brexit and COVID-19, renewed focus on global research partnerships, significant new public investment in R&D and an increased focus on challenge-led, mission oriented R&D. AMRC will be working with its member charities and research institutions to understand better how charity funding partnerships can be placed on a sustainable footing across the range of research activity and types of research institutions. These discussions will be based upon the following principles:

  • AMRC charities remain committed to supporting research and the careers of talented researchers in UK universities;
  • AMRC believes that government is primarily responsible for provision of underpinning funding for the UK biomedical science base;
  • Where it is within their charitable objects and appropriate for them to do so, AMRC encourages its member charities to contribute towards a sustainable science base in universities through the support of longer-term funding for people and facilities;
  • Universities should understand the full economic costs of proposed research facilities or activities when seeking financial support from charities;
  • Charities will not normally meet the full economic costs of the research they are supporting, especially for responsive mode funding calls;
  • Universities will be expected to contribute resources from QR, including the charity support element, in order to meet the full costs of research in partnership with charities;
  • Charities will not contribute a percentage overhead towards general university infrastructure;
  • Charities are unlikely to respond positively to demands to fund research activity on the basis of a fixed percentage of research costs (as is the case for other funders including the Research Councils); and
  • AMRC will work with member charities, government and universities to develop new models of partnership funding that will enable charities of all sizes to develop their commitment to research in a sustainable way.

[1] The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/science_innovation_120704.pdf