I wonder if someone (or eventually some country, organisation, etc ...) already evaluated the costs of the system of grants.

  • It costs at least the salary of the researcher who writes and gets the grant
  • but also the salary of all the researchers who didn’t get it, and could have done something else than writing a proposal
  • plus the costs in administration (e.g. the National Contact Point(s) in Europe at several places in each country)
  • plus the cost of organising the referral (travels, meetings, ...)
  • plus the cost of the grant itself, of course.

On the positive side, of course the entire society benefits from a completed grant.

So my questions are:

  • Are there some studies about the economical efficiency of the grant system?
  • What are their conclusions?
  • How much does the granting costs?
  • Are there other system evaluated?

Partially related questions :

but this question is really about the economy of research and factual investigations about the system of grants, not about feeling from researchers.

  • 2
    I don't have answer about studies. But in my opinion, although I hate writting grant proposals, I think that the grant system is generally an efficient way of selecting where the money should be invested. For researchers, it may seems like a waste of time to write these proposals. However, writing a proposal is actually helpful to plan future research. Some funding agencies may ask for example to do a 5 year research plan. Doing this takes time, but it helps to plan future research
    – Phil
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 0:16
  • 1
    I think talking about economic efficiency makes only sense if you compare these costs to the costs/benefits of other alternatives. Just because something is expensive, it doesnt mean it is not efficient (esp if not clear compared to what). Also, as@Phil mentioned, there is no clear cut what is an actual cost and what is job done anyway (or a job should do)
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 4:47
  • @Greg Different countries have different ways of distributing research funds. Also, the same country has different systems at different times in history. A study could compare the "efficiency" of these systems whatever that means.
    – Boris Bukh
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 6:35
  • 2
    This is a very interesting question, and one that I have also often wondered about (I guess everybody who is in the H2020 circus wonders about this). However, you should probably define better what "efficiency" means for you, because it's not entirely clear to me.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 8:09
  • @xLeitix You're entirely right of course, and it's the weakest point of the question. As far as I can see, this is the crucial point of most of the economical studies: how to define quantities we would like to compare ? After writing the question, I was thinking this is not such an obstacle, since research is a small community where almost everything is transparent (who get money, who publish articles/patent/..., what are the impact of the research, .... ) and so it seems to me to find a criterion for "efficiency" should not be that difficult. But I let economist do so :-)
    – FraSchelle
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 9:43

2 Answers 2


I know of one such study: Cost of the NSERC Science Grant Peer Review System Exceeds the Cost of Giving Every Qualified Researcher a Baseline Grant.

The authors examine the full costs of the process used by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and conclude that it would be more efficient to simply give a base amount to every researcher who meets the requirements to submit a proposal. The costs they consider include the time spent preparing and peer-reviewing grant proposals. In addition, the authors argue that the current system is ineffective, in that it rewards mediocrity and safe bets over curiosity and innovation.

The same journal later published a rebuttal (The Real Cost of the NSERC Peer Review is Less than 5% of a Proposed Baseline Grant) and a reply to the rebuttal (Indeed: Cost of the NSERC Science Grant Peer Review System Exceeds the Cost of Giving Every Qualified Researcher a Baseline Grant).

  • Thanks you really much for this link. It's unfortunately beyond a paywall. Do you know any way to access it ? Thank you again
    – FraSchelle
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 8:09

For a broad analysis of economic and social efficiency of science and science funding (including "soft money" such as grants), see the book How Economics Shapes Science.

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