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Research in UK


Research in UK


The United Kingdom enjoys a long tradition of excellence in the field of scientific and technological research, especially for its innovative contributions. To have at least an indicative idea of the calibre of British science in the world it is useful to remember that the United Kingdom includes among its citizens 84 scientists who were awarded the Nobel Prize (a number inferior only to the USA), number that rises to 120 if we take into consideration researchers from other countries who have received the Nobel Prize for a piece of research conducted in the United Kingdom

In addition, while constituting only around 1% of the world's population, the UK has its researchers involved in the production of about 16% of the world's top scientific and academic articles. One of the reasons for this great success is that the United Kingdom holds research and innovation in the highest regard and it considers them to be indispensable for the country’s economic development. It is no coincidence, indeed, that in the organizational structure of the British government, business, industrial strategy, research and scientific innovation are managed by the same department, namely the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). All other functions related to education belong to a different department – the Department for Education (DeE), whilst research in the field of health is coordinated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).


In the United Kingdom, much of the scientific and academic research takes place within universities, with the exception of some independent institutes such as the Francis Crick Institute and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), which remain in close contact with university institutions.

Research in the UK also has a dual financing channel:

· ex-post funding, run by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – that is still under experimentation – which has the aim of rewarding the performance of research institutions on the basis of the research done and its impact, and on the basis of the quality of teaching;

· ex- ante funding, managed by the Research Councils and entrusted to individual researchers on the basis of their research project.

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The TEF is a new system introduced by the government to recognize and reward university excellence in the field of (undergraduate) teaching and to provide students with useful and clear information on this higher education sector. The TEF aims at providing universities with both reputational and financial incentives: having a high rating means not only attracting more students - especially since the government has eliminated the maximum threshold of candidates that these institutions can admit - but it also means having the ability to maintain university fee levels in line with inflation.

Participation in the TEF is voluntary, and participants receive a gold, silver or bronze ‘medal’ that reflects the quality of their teaching and learning environment as well as the results of their students.

With regard to tuition fees, the TEF has fuelled growing controversy: the UK National Student Union is in fact engaged in a campaign that fights the measure according to which universities can increase their fees on the basis of their score in the TEF. In particular, the Student Union is encouraging students to boycott the National Student Survey, a survey used as one of the three parameters on which the TEF score is calculated.

Research Excellence Framework (REF)

If the TEF’s task is that of monitoring and evaluating the quality of university teaching, the REF’s job is instead that of evaluating and rewarding various institutions based on their scientific research. Based on the quality of their work, these institutions receive funding for the duration of six years. A review of the operation and objectives of the REF was published in July 2016 by Lord Nicholas Stern and can be found here.



There is currently a collaboration going on between the Royal Society - an independent scientific academy in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth - and the CNR (National Research Council) which led to the creation of a new grant, the Royal Society - CNR International Exchanges Award. This grant provides up to £ 12,000 for 2-year projects and it covers travel and subsistence costs, including up to £ 2,000 for research costs. For information on how to access it, please refer to the link above. CNR and the Lincean Academy have activated a different bilateral agreement with the Scottish scientific and literary academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Further information is available on the websites of both academies.