Report lists UK universities and disciplines most dependent on EU research and innovation funding

24 May 2017

Brexit will have significant implications for the UK’s research and innovation environment because of the importance of EU funding.

A new report jointly commissioned from the Technopolis Group by the UK’s four national academies – the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society – reveals exactly where EU funding goes, what kind of activities it supports and what other investment it attracts:

Academic disciplines

The report analysed the latest figures available from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (from 2014/2015) and found that all academic disciplines received some funding from EU government bodies. The report ranked them by the proportion of their total research funding derived from these sources. 

Archaeology tops the list, receiving 38% of its funding from EU government bodies, followed by Classics (33%) and IT (30%). Seven in the top 15 are social sciences, six are in the arts and humanities and two are natural and physical science subjects.

Natural and physical sciences and engineering dominate in absolute numbers, with clinical medicine receiving the most funding in 2014/15 (£120m), followed by biosciences (£91m), physics (£55m), chemistry (£55m) and IT (£46m). Given the high numbers, these fields may find it challenging to replace this income from other sources if the UK no longer had access to EU funds.

Higher education institutions (HEIs)

This report illustrates the funding received by HEIs from EU government bodies. The University of Oxford leads the list of HEIs receiving the most EU funding (£60.3m), followed by the University of Cambridge (£59.5) and UCL (£45.7m). 


The report also indicates impacts beyond academia. Whilst EU funding makes up for a small proportion of total UK business expenditure on research & development (R&D), EU sources comprise 17% of the R&D for UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), receiving over £650 million between 2007 and 2013.

UK regions

The report shows how funding from the EU that supports research and innovation is distributed across the UK. England takes the largest share of funding, receiving 85% of Horizon 2020 (85%) and 55% of the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). Scotland however receives the most per head from Horizon 2020 (€55 vs UK average of €44). For ESIF, which are mostly directed towards SMEs, Wales and Northern Ireland receive the most funding per person – at €125 and €60 respectively. This compares to €23 for the UK as a whole.


EU funding has the added benefit of attracting further investment from other sources. Using the calculations of a previous study, the report estimates that for every €1 spent by the EU to support R&D, a further €0.74 is raised from other sources, meaning the €9.6bn received overall helps to generate a total R&D expenditure of €16.6bn.

Consultancy Technopolis combined and analysed several sources of data on UK and EU research funding, as well as interviewing 30 organisations across government and industry to provide the most detailed breakdown yet of the role of EU funding in UK research and innovation.

The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU. The EU’s fund for research and innovation is the competitively awarded €80bn euro Horizon 2020 programme, which remains open to UK institutions while the country is a Member State and which the UK Government has committed to underwriting after leaving the EU. EU funds that also support for research and development include structural funds which promote the development of different research capacity in EU regions.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler FMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:  

“UK research and innovation thrives with the support of money from the EU. This study demonstrates that EU funding is deeply embedded across the UK research and innovation landscape, supporting disciplines, collaborations and individual researchers throughout their careers. 

“There is no doubt that EU funding substantially contributes to clinical medicine and bioscience research conducted in UK universities, with these disciplines receiving the first and second highest amount of funding from EU sources. However, it is not only our universities that benefit from EU funding. European Initiatives such as the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) have brought together large pharmaceutical companies, SMEs and academia to improve the drug development pathway, with the ultimate goal of delivering patient benefit through effective, safe, and innovative medicines.

“This report demonstrates the role of EU funding in UK research and innovation, however it is important to remember that our relationship with the EU is not only about the ‘pounds’. EU networks are absolutely vital for providing access to the people and the partnerships which allow the biomedical sciences in the UK to excel on the global stage.”

Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, Ash Amin said: 

“UK based humanities and social sciences are world-leading and this is recognised in the significant funding they have won from competitive EU programmes. The high proportion of EU funding in these disciplines also demonstrates the limited funding sources that exist within the UK.

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is vital that our disciplines can maintain their global reputation for research and innovation. The Government must continue to support excellent UK-based research, through access to additional UK and international funding.”

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: 

“EU research and innovation funding is not only important to academia.  It also plays a significant role for businesses, both financially – especially for SMEs – and through non-monetary benefits. Without such research and innovation funding available, UK companies could miss out on strategic collaboration that offers them opportunities to engage in pre-competitive research, access new markets and influence the future direction of sectors.”

President of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan said: 

“This report shows that EU funding sources are essential for UK science and innovation, which is among our greatest strengths and key to our future. After the UK leaves the EU we must make sure that research is not short changed, and the overall funding level of science is maintained.”