15 November 2017
Dr Cat Ball, Policy Manager at the Association of Medical Research Charities, explains the vital role of the Charity Research Support Fund in university research.
Working in policy, we have a lot of acronyms. And I mean a lot – you could pretty much have a whole conversation made up of them. But there’s one that is often particularly difficult to explain to policymakers and others alike.
The CRSF. Or, to give it it’s full name, the Charity Research Support Fund. Catchy.
But what the name lacks in punchiness, the Fund makes up for in impact. The CRSF is fundamental in enabling universities to leverage charity investment, underpinning many of the key contributions that medical research charities make in the UK’s world-leading life sciences sector.
Why is the CRSF so important?
Last year AMRC’s members collectively invested £1.6 billion in UK medical research - more than either the Medical Research Council (MRC) or the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The majority of this, 88% to be precise, took place directly in universities.
When charities invest in university research they do this in a different way to other funders; this is because charities exist in a different way to other funders. Our sector is built on donations from the public and philanthropists; in 2016 over 8 million people donated to medical research. Therefore, first and foremost, charities must invest in research as their supporters expected when they gave up their hard-earned cash - directly on medical research to achieve maximum impact for patients.
This means that there are some associated costs of research (called indirect costs) that charities don’t pay for - university estates, shared IT and administration overheads are some examples.
Government gets this, or at least they did back in 2006 when the CRSF was announced. The Fund was introduced as a partnership between Government, charities and universities that allows the public to support university medical research.
What is the CRSF?
The CRSF is a funding stream that Government give to universities in England as part of block institutional funding (known as QR – quality-related funding) allocated by the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE). Similar funds are provided in the devolved nations.
The CRSF ‘tops up’ charity funding providing additional funds for universities in receipt of charity funding. It was intended to put charity funding on a par with other funders of UK research, such as the Research Councils, whose funding typically comes with an inbuilt level of overheads (or indirect costs).
What’s the current situation?
Since 2010, the CRSF has been fixed at £198 million per year. During this time, the value of the fund has been eroded by both inflation and an increase in charity funding. This means that the value of the fund has fallen from 28p of CRSF received by universities for every £1 of charity investment in 2010/11 to less than 20p per £1 in 2017/18.
It is therefore increasingly difficult for universities doing charity-funded research to cover their costs and the sustainability of medical research charity investment in universities is at risk.
What are AMRC doing about it?
AMRC are calling on Government to increase the CRSF in real terms in line with inflation and charity investment. As members of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Board, we were able to feed in this ask during drafting of the Strategy. We were pleased to see that the sector took this on board and the recommendation is included in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (LSIS – I told you we like acronyms…)
‘Sector deals’ for the life sciences are now being pursued - a series of agreements between the sector and the Government to work together to take forward the recommendations of the LSIS as part of the wider Industrial Strategy. These present a key opportunity for the CRSF.
To inform the ‘sector deal’ stage, we’ve been working with a group of our members to put together a new evidence report on the CRSF. The report, co-badged by 24 of our members, outlines the importance of the Fund and explains how increasing it is an opportunity for Government to leverage the contributions of medical research charities towards achieving the aims of the Industrial Strategy.
Launching this week, we’ve shared the report with key policy-makers involved in decision making around the CRSF to highlight the sector’s call that the Fund be increased. Many voices shout the loudest so we urge members to join us in sharing the document and highlighting the sector’s call to key stakeholders.
Let’s hope that we can get our call to increase the CRSF heard. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much we can do about the name.
This article was first published under a different title on the AMRC blog.