I read on Wikipedia:

UK universities rely on the EU for around 16% of their total research funding, and are disproportionately successful at winning EU-awarded research grants.

Why are UK universities "disproportionately successful at winning EU-awarded research grants"?

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    By what measure are they "disproportionately successful" at winning grants? Sep 19, 2016 at 16:03
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    This question was also raised by a professor at my University, it seems that they have specific technicals departments which are responsible for the guiding in writing a very good research proposals. Moreover, the research grants might be offered based on continuity in research for the institutions.
    – Nikey Mike
    Sep 19, 2016 at 16:25
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    People speak English in the UK. Most academics are proficient in English. Not having to learn the local language is obviously a factor when deciding between job offers. As a result, UK universities have a competitive advantage over e.g. French or German universities when hiring, and they are able to hire more people with the potential to get EU funding. Sep 19, 2016 at 16:42
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    @PLL many well-received questions are complex, debatable, and open-ended on this Stack Exchange website. Sep 19, 2016 at 17:57
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    @JouniSirén The latter is a matter of personal taste, and how much of a shut-in you are. At my university, i personally know a dozen people who work and live here for years, and can hardly discuss the weather. I'd hate to live that way, but? The real problem is work: A team of five in which only one or two people can really communicate fluently is extremely inefficient. Discussions take forever, they often end before getting to the actual problem, misunderstandings, etc.
    – Karl
    Sep 19, 2016 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


Universities in the UK (and universities in Northern Europe in general) are just better on average, with better infrastructure, better English skills, the means to hire better people, attract better students and in the end to write better grants (that might or might not be written by professional grant-writers). These are Framework programme grants for which there is Europe-wide competition.

This isn't entirely fair, that's why universities/research projects in poorer European regions are funded by the EU using more localized grants, as part of the European Structure funds. Usually these grants are not open to Europe-wide competition, and the UK can't win them all.

Another comment on how "disproportionally successful" could be counted. If they just counted #grants-with-UK-participants / #grants the UK would come out ahead because of its large population (the same for Germany). Almost all grants will have UK / German groups involved, as it's hard to get 10 research groups & companies together without taking one from the UK (or Germany).

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    Did you just seriously quote the "Times Higher Education" ranking as a measure of good universities?
    – user9646
    Sep 20, 2016 at 13:23
  • Do you have a better suggestion? The THE ranking is one of the best-known rankings, but all of them will put the UK ones at the top. So this argument is not that relevant.
    – VonBeche
    Sep 20, 2016 at 14:38
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    Let me clarify. Did you seriously quote a ranking of universities, any one of the few that float around, as a measure of good universities? And it doesn't faze you in any way that in the "top 10" of European universities, 8 are from the UK? It's just like that, UK universities are intrinsically better in every way than all other European universities, it's a fact of life? You didn't stop to question the information fed to you?
    – user9646
    Sep 20, 2016 at 15:28
  • This argument is not relevant, as UK universities are at the top of every ranking. Of course there are all sorts of issues with these rankings, but those don't change the results: no matter what you measure, UK universities are at the top. The rankings (and I) are also not saying they're better in every way, just better overall on average. And this partially explains the success of the UK in getting these grants.
    – VonBeche
    Sep 20, 2016 at 16:07
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    The argument is worth dissecting because it appears again and again: a ranking is produced; its validity is basically destroyed by nearly every competent expert studying it, for gross bias or methodology reasons; and yet the ranking is still invoked as demonstrating some intrinsic features of the ranked entities. The whole operation seems to work like what they cal a self-fulfilling prophecy...
    – Did
    Sep 21, 2016 at 6:42

The Royal Society has looked into this. The "disproportionately successful" claim is complicated. The report says

The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU and, although national contributions to the EU budget are not itemised, analyses suggest that the UK receives a greater amount of EU research funding than it contributes.

According to the report, the UK contributions account for 10.5% of the total EU budget, but the UK then "only" receives 6% of the total budget. The report claims that approximately 7% (5.4 billion out of 77.7 billion) of the UK contribution to the EU went to research funding and that 19% (8.8 billion out of 47.5 billion) of the money the UK received from the EU was for research. The report goes on to say

There are two major routes by which the EU directly funds research in the UK – Framework Programme funding and structural funds. The UK is very successful in attracting Framework Programme funding, particularly that allocated for excellence. The UK recieves relatively little structural funding, which is largely targeted at building capacity in the least economically developed regions of the EU.

Roughly half the EU research budget is for "excellence" (the other half is for "capacity building"). There is a large asymmetry in distribution of the "excellence" funding with Germany, France, and the UK capturing approximately half of the excellence funding and only a quarter of the capacity building funding.

I do not think it is surprising that countries with strong "economies" are better able to capture funding earmarked for "excellence". If the EU shifted funding from excellence to capacity building, then the UK share would likely decrease. This in turn would decrease the UK share of the total EU budget and possibly lead to an earlier vote by the UK to leave the EU.

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    "There is a large asymmetry in distribution of the "excellence" funding with Germany, France, and the UK capturing approximately half of the excellence funding." -- well, these three countries have a population of 82+67+65=214 million, out of a total of 510 million. You would expect them to get "approximately half" of the funding, even if their universities/researchers were no better than those in the rest of the Union. It is certainly not a "large asymmetry". (But I would suspect that their share is actually much larger than "approximately half".) Sep 19, 2016 at 22:00
  • @WolfgangBangerth see edit. Germany, France, and the UK only account for 25% of the Capacity Building research funding. The UK only outperforms its contribution on one type of research funding.
    – StrongBad
    Sep 19, 2016 at 22:07
  • Yes. But I still think that the three getting roughly 1/2 of the excellence funds is statistically not a "large asymmetry", simply based on the population numbers. Sep 20, 2016 at 15:41

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