Research financial sustainability

The long-term financial sustainability of the research and innovation (R&I) ecosystem is critical to maintaining the UK’s global position in research and development (R&D) and ensuring it delivers new ideas that lead to economic growth.

A sustainable system meets today’s R&I needs without depleting its ability to meet them in the future; maintaining the agility, capability, and flexibility needed to withstand shocks, deliver long-term goals and capture new opportunities.

Financial sustainability features strongly in our five-year strategy transforming tomorrow together, as part of the resilience principle for change, which prioritises improving the financial sustainability of R&I in organisations across the UK.

Working closely with partners in government and across the sector, our work aims to:

  • build awareness of the complexity of the UK’s research system
  • understand the different financial pressures it faces
  • make robust, evidence-based policy recommendations to improve financial sustainability

Our work

The research sustainability team works in collaboration with teams across:

  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
  • Office for Students
  • devolved funders
  • UK universities, institutes and other research organisations

We identify, understand and build evidence around the financial sustainability of the UK research base and ensure financial sustainability is a key consideration across the breadth of the R&D landscape.

Key areas of our work include:

  • understanding how funding flows through UK research-performing organisations
  • monitoring indicators of change across the sector
  • exploring and addressing sustainability challenges

Financial sustainability of research in universities

Universities play a pivotal role in the UK R&I system through their teaching, research and knowledge exchange activities. However, they are facing a range of financial pressures which may require them to make difficult decisions about how much they can continue to support and invest in research activities.

Using a systems thinking approach, UKRI has engaged with universities across the UK to understand what factors influence and incentivise this decision making around research.

Combined with other feedback from universities, this helps us to inform our policy thinking around long-term financial sustainability.

UKRI also uses qualitative and quantitative data on university research to explore how costs have been changing over time.

This includes the data obtained through a method called Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC), used by universities to understand the costs of their research and teaching and which provides a consistent framework for:

  • calculating the cost of teaching activities
  • assessing the full economic cost of research projects
  • reporting the costs of teaching, research and other activities to the relevant funding bodies

Please see our TRAC explainer for further information.

Sustainability of research in UKRI’s institutes

UKRI has a large and growing portfolio of strategically important institutes, spanning the breadth of our scientific remit.

We work in partnership to:

  • demonstrate their importance to the R&I ecosystem
  • raise the profile of the research they undertake
  • build a robust evidence base from which to assess their financial sustainability

Our governance

The Financial Sustainability of Research Group (FSRG) is a sector-wide group of experts who can provide independent, evidence-based advice on challenges to financial sustainability and discuss strategic policy issues, such as:

  • the financial sustainability of research
  • efficiency of funding flows
  • the changing, diverse funding environment

FSRG meet three times a year and work closely with the Regulators and Funders Group and the TRAC Development Group to ensure that analysis, advice or policy recommendations across these groups is complementary.

FSRG Chair Professor Mark E Smith (University of Southampton) explains why the financial sustainability of research is essential to fulfilling our potential as a world-leading scientific nation.

Contact us

For further information on the work UKRI are doing please contact the research sustainability team.


Last updated: 8 August 2023

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