MRC institutes, units and centres

The Medical Research Council (MRC) provides funding to research institutes, units and centres across the UK.

MRC has a mission to support research and training with the aim of maintaining and improving human health. To address important scientific opportunities and health needs, and when stand-alone grant support alone is insufficient, our three main support mechanisms are:

  1. Institutes – very long-term flexible multidisciplinary investments
  2. Units – more focused investments established for as long as needed to support a scientific need or deliver a research vision
  3. Centres – build on existing MRC, and other, support to add value and help establish a high-profile research centre

All three are mission-focused and carry out ground-breaking research including innovative methodology and technology development. Developing strategically driven initiatives, led by an expert scientific director, can help promote novel, high risk approaches, cooperative research programmes, or the development of shared infrastructure.

They are all expected to recruit and, in partnership with the higher education institutions (HEI) and other organisations, develop outstanding researchers with specialist and transferable skills for academic research, the health services and the national economy. They work in partnerships to ensure maximal knowledge transfer for health benefit.

In any field, the need for these support mechanisms will change over time. Successful research progress may mean that approaches are quickly integrated into HEI research in the area, or that a unit or centre has to change its form and direction.

New funding model: MRC Centres of Research Excellence

We are changing the way we fund long-term research through units and centres, to adopt a new challenge-led, time-limited approach, the MRC Centres of Research Excellence (MRC CoREs). The first investments to be made under the new MRC CoRE funding model will start in 2024.

Institutes

Institutes adopt broad multidisciplinary approaches to address major challenges in health-related research often requiring ground breaking methodology and technology development.

They are provided with sustained support and state-of-the-art facilities over a long period of time. This allows the use of highly innovative and risky approaches across a flexible range of disciplines, that would not be feasible in a university setting, to tackle crucially important and complex issues over long periods of time.

Institutes attract and develop outstanding students and early career scientists from the UK, and internationally, providing in-depth, advanced research training and a broad multidisciplinary research environment.

Institutes are often preferred when the MRC intends to be the keystone of support for a particular area. Institutes may be based on MRC or non-MRC employment models according to the setting. In either case, support is only justified if a suitable high quality research director can be found.

Units

Units are set up to meet specific needs, for example, to provide scientific leadership in key research fields, or to tackle important research questions where the need cannot easily be addressed through grant funding. This can be because the research area calls for:

  • Strong and distinctive scientific leadership
  • Close coordination across disciplines and activities
  • Development of methods and technologies
  • Support for the development of novel or higher risk programmes and capabilities.

Units are embedded as fully as possible in a research-active university. They attract and develop outstanding students and early career programme leaders from the UK and internationally and often have a major impact through developing future research leaders in their specialist areas.

Centres

Centres allow us to help HEIs develop and consolidate internationally competitive, high-profile research centres with a clear strategic direction in areas of importance for UK medical research.

Centres provide intellectually stimulating and well-resourced programmes and environments which not only are attractive to established researchers but also to new investigators. They are usually set up to provide the core for developing initiatives in partnership with others.

Centres have an important role in capacity development in a focused area, with MRC funding for training often focused at the PhD and individual fellowship level, in both clinical and non-clinical research.

MRC core funding is provided for a set period to develop the centre’s capabilities and research strategy, and is expected to help HEIs attract further support from other funders as well as the MRC.

Last updated: 22 November 2022

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