Finding a Unicorn? Research funding in Business & Management research

Explains why university administrators need to be realistic in the amount of research funding they can expect Business School academics to generate

Universities like academics to bring in research funding. However, research funding plays a different role in different disciplines. Below is a highly stylised figure I created 10 years ago when I was Research Dean in the Faculty of Business & Economics at the University of Melbourne and was preparing for the Faculty's yearly Strategic Performance Review with the Deputy VC Research. My then Deputy VC Research had a Life Sciences background and felt our Faculty was underperforming, whereas in fact it was #1 in Australia and in the top-20 in the world.

I therefore prepared a 2-pager illustrating the difference between the "Lab Sciences" (roughly equating to the Life Sciences, Natural Sciences and part of Engineering) and the "Theory Sciences" (roughly equating to the Social Sciences and Arts & Humanities), covering research funding, PhD supervision, and publication practices. The part about research funding is below. Please note, this is a high-level stylised comparison, meant to illustrate basic differences between disciplines. I do not claim it is applicable in every sub-discipline or for every single academic.

Many academics in my discipline (Business & Management) have very successful careers without ever getting a major research grant. That said, I do acknowledge that in the current climate universities require research income in order to compensate for declining levels of government funding. So it is not unreasonable to expect academics to at least try to get research funding [for 10 tips, see How to write successful funding applications?].

However, senior administrators need to be realistic about the level of funding that can be acquired in the Social Sciences and Business & Management in particular. Success rates below 5% are very common in this field. Moreover, in many countries research funding in Business & Management (and the Social Sciences and Humanities in general) is declining, with priority being given to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) discipines.

Therefore, getting significant funding in Business & Management might not be quite as impossible as finding a Unicorn, but it is very hard indeed. Senior administrators should therefore ensure they are not comparing apples with oranges. Yes the Social Science disciplines might bring in relatively low levels of research income, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are underperforming. Given that in many universities promotion is linked to generation of research income, it is very important to be aware of disciplinary differences in terms of access to research funding.  

Research income in Business & Management in the UK

In April 2019, the Chartered Association of Business Schools brought out a report on research income in Business & Management for the last 6 years [2012/13 to 2017/18]. The overall news was quite mixed. Over this 6-year period, research income for Business & Management Studies increased by 12%. However, accounting for inflation it actually declined by 1%, whilst the overall increase for all fields was 15% [30% before inflation].

In this difficult climate, my own university - Middlesex University - did very well. For the 6-year period it ranked 28 out of 124 institutions [see Table, I created a download for the full list by rank, university name, and university grouping], only fractionally below the University of Bath and SOAS. With this performance, it outranks half of the Russell Group universities and nearly two thirds of the other research intensive universities. And with our synergistic internal research clusters, supported by a research facilitation funding scheme providing seed funding, we are expecting more funding success in the near future :-)

Table: Top-30 ranking for research income from Business and Management (£000s)

Based on CABS report: Research Income for Business & Mgmt, Analysis of HESA data 2012/13- 2017/18, Apr 2019


In the 2020 CABS report Middlesex University Business School retained its top-30 position in an increasingly competitive funding landscape.

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