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Planning a centre’s research funding strategy

In today’s blog, Jonathan Rans, Strategic Research Executive, introduces our new research funding guide aimed at current and prospective Directors of research centres at the University of Edinburgh.

Our research centres are a vital component in society’s response to ‘grand challenges’, complex intractable problems on a global scale. Centres are the drivers of the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research capable of finding solutions to those grand societal problems.

Recognising that good planning is vital to success, we have produced guidance for University of Edinburgh Centre Directors planning a centre’s research funding strategy, available through the Edinburgh Research Office Insights and Intelligence intranet site (UoE staff access only). Maintaining a functional and vibrant centre is a demanding task and a reactive approach to research funding often places the lion’s share of responsibility for winning resources on the Centre Director.

The guide introduces three, high-level models of research funding, inviting Directors to consider which best describes the centre’s current portfolio and which would serve future research goals. Broadly speaking, all centres will fall into one of the three models although each will be unique in their own way.

The funding portfolio models introduced by the guide are:

  • The Centre Grant Model – the centre holds a large, single grant designed to fund all activities, both academic and administrative. This grant provides stability, direction and prestige to the centre but may be inflexible and leads to a ‘cliff-edge’ loss of funding at the end of the grant that may lead to loss of experienced staff.
  • The Portfolio Model – the centre is supported by a diverse range of funding streams with no single, large grant underpinning core activity. This model provides the most flexibility to the research programme but requires grant writing to be a fundamental activity of the centre and coordination of centre members’ research funding.
  • The Hybrid Model – the centre holds a large programme or research grant which shapes core activity without completely defining the research programme. Complementary funding streams enable a flexible research agenda. Although not completely dependent on a single grant, the end of the primary funding stream must be strategically managed.

When the model which best enables the centre’s research goals has been identified, it is possible to drill down to a more detailed level and start to explore what that might look like in practice. Edinburgh Research Office can highlight specific responsive mode funding opportunities aligned with the centre’s strategic aims. Putting these into a research funding timeline allows Directors to visualise projects in parallel.

We can then:

  • Identify points when bid-writing must be prioritised and avoid timetabling other activities.
  • Align new opportunities with the end-point of grants to build sustainable, long-term research.
  • Consciously grow research activity from exploratory projects to large-scale awards.
  • Enable contingency planning to repurpose bids.
  • Highlight the time lag between submission of a bid and commencement of research improving planning.

These plans are not intended to be restrictive or proscriptive but rather provide a range of possible approaches enabling a flexible, strategic approach to achieving centre goals.

Support from Edinburgh Research Office

If you are a current or prospective Director or Co-director of a research centre at the University of Edinburgh, and you would like to access available guidance and expertise from Edinburgh Research Office, please contact Jonathan Rans, Strategic Research Executive.

Additional resources to help research planning in your centre are available on the ERO Insights and Intelligence intranet site, including:

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Jonathan Rans


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