Is research funding always beneficial? A cross-disciplinary analysis of U.K. research 2014-20

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Although funding is essential for some types of research and beneficial for others, it may constrain academic choice and creativity. Thus, it is important to check whether it ever seems unnecessary. Here we investigate whether funded U.K. 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 U.K.’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 of higher quality overall, for all the largest research funders, and for 30 out of 34 REF Units of Assessment (disciplines or sets of disciplines), even after factoring out research team size. There are differences between funders in the average quality of the research supported, however. Funding seems particularly associated with higher research quality 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-534
Number of pages34
JournalQuantitative Science Studies
Issue number2
Early online date1 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2023


  • Academic careers
  • research funding
  • research grants
  • research quality
  • Scientometrics
  • academic careers
  • scientometrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Analysis
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Numerical Analysis


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