Is research funding always beneficial? A cross-disciplinary analysis of UK research 2014-20

Mike Thelwall, Kayvan Kousha, Mahshid Abdoli, Emma Stuart, Meiko Makita, Cristina Font-Julián, Paul Wilson, Jonathan Levitt

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint

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The search for and management of external funding now occupies much valuable researcher time. Whilst funding is essential for some types of research and beneficial for others, it may also constrain academic choice and creativity. Thus, it is important to assess whether it is ever detrimental or unnecessary. Here we investigate whether funded research tends to be higher quality in all fields and for all major research funders. Based on peer review quality scores for 113,877 articles from all fields in the UK's Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, we estimate that there are substantial disciplinary differences in the proportion of funded journal articles, from Theology and Religious Studies (16%+) to Biological Sciences (91%+). The results suggest that funded research is likely to be higher quality overall, for all the largest research funders, and for all fields, even after factoring out research team size. There are differences between funders in the average quality of the research they support, however. Funding seems particularly beneficial in health-related fields. The results do not show cause and effect and do not take into account the amount of funding received but are consistent with funding either improving research quality or being won by high quality researchers or projects. In summary, there are no broad fields of research in which funding is irrelevant, so no fields can afford to ignore it. The results also show that citations are not effective proxies for research quality in the arts and humanities and most social sciences for evaluating research funding.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages41
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2022


  • cs.DL


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