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Research Strategy Office


The Research Strategy Office is keen to pursue, and support, an evidenced based approach to Research Policy. As such we undertake, and collaborate on, projects to increase our understanding of the research system. In this section we list the projects we are currently working on and the publications we have recently contributed to.


The value of QR project

Quality Related (QR) funding from Research England provides an important source of support for research in English universities, but because of the variety of ways QR funding is used it is often hard to concretely identify the ways in which this support, and its benefits, manifest themselves.

This project is investigating the contributions of Quality Related block funding using practical examples from the University of Cambridge, through case studies and data analysis. It will set these examples in the context of the historical development of QR funding; and the theoretical economic and philosophical arguments around different methods of research funding allocation. It is intended to produce illustrative findings and develop methods that could be applied in other universities.

Scoping work identified six principal interconnected channels through which QR funding supports research and the wider research and academic system:

  • Providing space for creativity and nurturing new ideas

  • Establishing new researchers

  • Maintaining continuity, allowing a diverse research capacity to allow rapid responses to unforeseen circumstances

  • Supporting the integration of teaching and research by allowing leading research academics remain engaged in teaching

  • Covering some of the unmet costs of research supported from other sources

  • Allowing both of academic and policy focussed knowledge synthesis

This project is exploring current examples; the historical evolution; and theoretical basis for each of these channels; and how their importance varies by disciplinary area.

The Research project is being carried out jointly with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, and is supported by a grant from Research England.


The views expressed in the articles listed on this page are those of the authors of the articles and do not represented the views or position of the Research Strategy Office, or the University of Cambridge.

From COVID-19 research to vaccine application: why might it take 17 months not 17 years and what are the wider lessons? [ ]

It has been estimated that it takes about 17 years for medical research to move from the laboratory to become a treatment available to patients. This commentary explores how it might be possible for a Covid-SARS-2 vaccine to be produced in a timescale closer to 17 months. Is it an apples-to-apples comparison and how is research to identify a Covid-SARS-2 vaccine being accelerated?

Article link (open access): [ ]

The commentary is also summarised in a recent blog on the Bennett Institute for Public Policy website [ ]

Heuristics, not plumage: a response to Osterloh and Frey’s Discussion Paper on ‘Borrowed Plumes’

Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is widely accepted as a bad measure of research quality, but its use persists. Various baroque explanations have been suggested for JIF’s persistence. This note suggests a simpler explanation: that it persists because JIF convenient heuristic, and that the key to reducing JIF’s use is to ensure alternative metrics are available that provide a better effort/accuracy trade off. The note also calls for better information on the extent of JIF usage so the urgency of the cause can be better judged.

Article link: [ ]

Repository link: [ ]

What do we know about grant peer review in the health sciences?

Peer review decisions award an estimated >95% of academic medical research funding. This paper summarises the available evidence on the effectiveness and burden of peer review for grant funding.

The paper identifies a remarkable paucity of evidence about the efficiency of peer review for funding and we identifies some conclusions around the effectiveness and burden of peer review. The strongest evidence around effectiveness indicates a bias against innovative research. There is also fairly clear evidence that peer review is, at best, a weak predictor of future research performance, and that ratings vary considerably between reviewers. There is some evidence of age bias and cronyism. Good evidence shows that the burden of peer review is high and that around 75% of it falls on applicants. By contrast, many of the efforts to reduce burden are focused on funders and reviewers/panel members.

Given the central role of peer review allocation in the biomedical research system the paper suggests the importance of acknowledging, assessing and analysing the uncertainty around peer review. This could include transparent experimentation and evaluation of different ways to fund research; but will require more openness across the wider scientific community to support such investigations, acknowledging the current lack of evidence and the impossibility of achieving perfection.

Article link (open access): []