Reviewed: December 2022


  • A stable and sustainable university research environment is essential to all stakeholders
  • Charities are a vital part of the ecosystem funding
  • Charities fund the directly incurred costs of research and other costs, where these are in line with their mission and charitable objectives
  • Charitable grants do not usually cover the indirect costs of research, because of the way that charities provide funding, taking account of their charitable objectives.
  • Partnership is required to support and incentivise charity-funded medical research in universities

A stable and sustainable university research environment is essential to all stakeholders 

Charities recognise and support the importance of stable and sustainable research infrastructure in UK universities to ensure competitively-funded research delivers maximum benefit for society. The sustainability of university research is broader than financial sustainability, and includes career paths and research culture also. Long term sustainability of university research is an ecosystem wide issue, and charities seek to work with the rest of the sector to explore solutions.   

Charities are a vital part of the ecosystem funding health research in universities 

The unique diversity of funders within the UK life science research base, including medical research charities, government, and industry drives up quality, and collectively results in a rich variety of research outputs and impacts that deliver benefits for patients and society. 

Over the past 10 years[1], medical research charities have invested nearly £15 billion on research in the UK. In 2021, 88% of all UK medical research funded by AMRC’s members took place directly in universities1. Charity funders make targeted investments to ensure value for money, driven by the priorities of patients and bringing a sense of urgency to tackle health challenges, and are therefore important partners[2] 

What charities fund and why 

Funders supporting research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) have different priorities, levels of resource, and objectives. Charities differ from other funders in the way they obtain their income and fund research. They are independent from government and their mission is to support research for public benefit that will improve health and wellbeing. Charities must take into account their charitable objectives, the expectations of their donors, their research priorities, and the needs of their communities, including patients and the public. Charities have a legal duty to ensure their activities are consistent with and support their purpose, as set out in their Charitable Objectives. When people generously donate to charities, they expect their money to be spent on research to ultimately benefit patients. Asking donors to pay for non-exclusive costs or overheads can also present a significant fundraising challenge for charities as infrastructure and overheads are not viewed as of specific benefit to the cause that the public have identified to support.  

When charities support research in universities, they:  

  • fund the directly incurred costs[3] of research in universities, in line with their mission and charitable objectives, and the wishes of their donors.  
  • may on a case-by-case basis pay some directly allocated costs[4] of research, where it is in line with their charitable mission and can be justified, for example, the costs of animal housing or open access publishing. 
  • provide funding for equipment, infrastructure and facilities. This may include investment in research centres and institutes where it is in line with their mission or where an unmet need has been identified. Charities also often support the costs of enabling infrastructure that allows research to take place, for example, the set-up and maintenance of tissue banks. 
  • contribute to broader sustainability in universities, including longer-term funding for people and talent, and encouraging behaviours that support a positive research culture. 

Partnership is required to support and incentivise charity-funded medical research in universities  

The Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) underpins charity investment in UK university research. It is an important component of the Quality-Related (QR) university funding across England (similar funds are provided in the devolved nations). In recognition of the value of charity funding and how charities fund on a different model, the CRSF was introduced as a partnership approach between charities, government and universities[5]. The CRSF allows universities to effectively leverage research funding from charities by enabling the recovery of some of the indirect costs of research not covered by charitable grants[6].  These costs include estates, shared IT and administration overheads. 

The CRSF provides a means not just to financially support charity funded research but also to incentivise charities to fund research in UK universities. Since its introduction, the CRSF has supported significant charity funding of research in universities.  However, its value has not kept track with increasing levels of charity investment nor inflation. Greater investment is needed to further incentivise charity funded research.  

We believe it is the role of government to support the underpinning infrastructure on which other funders can build.  Therefore, it is imperative the value of the CRSF is enhanced alongside QR funding to support the sustainability and stability of this research in UK universities.  

[1] Our Sector's Footprint 2021
[2] Making Research Happen: Charities' vital role
[3] Costs that are explicitly identifiable as arising from the conduct of a project
[4] Costs that are not project-specific, are shared, and are estimated
[5] Science and innovation investment framework (2004)
[6] The 2021 Research England ‘How we fund HEPs’ document states: “QR charity support fund. Many charities support research in higher education, particularly in medical disciplines, but they are not always able to meet the full economic costs of research. We therefore provide additional funding to HEPs in proportion to the London-weighted income they receive from charities for research.”