The Medical Research Council (MRC) is changing the way we fund long-term research through units and centres, to adopt a new challenge-led, time-limited approach through MRC Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE). The first investments to be made under the new funding model will start in 2024.
The MRC Centres of Research Excellence:
- are challenge-led investments focussing on distinct, disruptive, or multi- and interdisciplinary activity
- have the potential to prove transformative to the field within 14 years
Tackling such challenges will be transformational to biomedical and health research, and will enhance approaches to the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease, improving health and wellbeing for all.
Challenges and objectives
MRC CoRE challenges should:
- be bold, ambitious and innovative, and address a gap or opportunity which is not being adequately addressed elsewhere
- address substantial unmet needs in understanding or modifying human health and disease
- have major strategic objectives achievable within the 14-year timeframe which, if achieved, will transform the research field or area of health research
- be best pursued through coordinated and flexible, major long-term funding
They will be achieved through:
- fostering innovation and engagement to establish the capability and capacity to place the UK at the international forefront of impactful health research
- harnessing and networking the best expertise in the UK, to bring together creative and diverse approaches for cross-sectoral working across multiple research disciplines
- research that drives breakthrough advances and addresses specific bottlenecks through knowledge generation, technological or methodological innovation, with clear relevance to translating discovery research into interventions that reach patients
We expect the MRC CoREs to be outward-facing, harnessing the best talent in the UK to deliver upon their proposed vision. They should provide a stimulating environment to train the next generation of researchers and technologists. MRC CoREs can be hosted by a single research organisation or in partnership across multiple organisations.
Funding and governance
There is an annual funding opportunity, initially with specific themes, and we will make up to 2 awards each year. The MRC budget provided to an MRC CoRE is typically £3 million for each year.
Collectively, the MRC CoRE programme will provide a dynamic portfolio of research investments at the leading-edge internationally, that can address the critical research challenges we face. They will be overseen by a new MRC major investments board that will ensure we maximise their impact, as well as providing horizon-scanning and oversight of our wider major investments portfolio.
Benefits of the new model
A review of MRC units and centres in 2020 suggested they could benefit from being more integrated and collaborative. MRC CoREs will take their place, bringing together the best features of both, alongside the other types of funding we offer.
This new type of funding gives researchers the opportunity to work collectively to identify the research challenges that they feel are most important.
We encourage researchers to partner up across different organisations, to harness the best talent in the UK and promote interdisciplinary connections and team science.
Embedded in the research ecosystem
In line with the terms of our standard research grants, the MRC CoREs have 80% of the full economic costs covered by MRC funding support. The additional 20% of costs are covered by host organisations under the dual-support model.
It is expected that the mission of each MRC CoRE will be additionally supported through competitive grants and fellowships, and pursuit of external grants will help embed the MRC CoREs in the wider research ecosystem. This will promote connections, movement of researchers and encourage additional activity aligned to their overall mission.
Tackling societal challenges together
This annual funding opportunity helps MRC strategically fund research in a more flexible way and aim our investment at areas with clear opportunity for impact. This helps us better support progress against the increasingly complex and interdisciplinary health challenges faced by society.
Simpler review process and financial model
The funding of MRC CoREs aligns with the financial model used across most of the research system, simplifying interactions with host organisations and stakeholders. A more flexible and portfolio-based approach makes joint funding easier across:
- other parts of UK Research and Innovation
- research charities
- other funders
They also offer a more streamlined review process, replacing the 5-yearly review with a review at year 6 (of the first 7 years), to confirm funding for a further 7 years.
Positive research culture
The MRC CoREs will be beacons of excellence in research culture and equality, diversity and inclusion. They should adopt and maintain the highest standards in the way research is conducted and openly communicated.
They should develop and nurture career paths and a training environment which supports a positive research culture. Building research capacity in their specialist area, they will equip researchers with the tools needed to carry out world-leading research and effectively transition between career stages.
Information for MRC Units
We are working closely with our existing MRC units to support them and their staff with the change. Existing MRC units can apply to the new model in competition with other applications.
In the meantime, we are here to take feedback and answer any questions. Please get in touch at: CoRE@mrc.ukri.org.
Applying for the new funding model
The funding opportunity involves a 2-stage application process. The first stage is an outline application, the second stage is a full application. Only a small number of applicants will be invited to prepare a full application.
For any queries about the new funding model please contact us.
Last updated: 22 November 2022