Research capability funding

NIHR research capability funding (RCF) is allocated to NHS organisations that undertake NIHR research, to help them maintain research capacity and capability.

What are the aims of research capability funding?

The aims of RCF funding are to:

  • help research-active NHS organisations to act flexibly and strategically to maintain research capacity and capability
  • support the appointment, development and retention of key staff undertaking or supporting people and patient-based based research
  • contribute towards the costs of hosting NIHR-funded or ‘adopted’ research that are not currently fully covered across NIHR’s programmes, and that are not met in other ways.

Who is awarded research capability funding?

RCF is allocated to research-active NHS bodies or NHS health care providers under one of two circumstances:

  • they received sufficient NIHR income during the previous calendar year to reach a threshold of £20k required to trigger an RCF allocation OR
  • they recruited at least 500 people per year to non-commercial studies conducted through the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN).

What are the benefits of receiving RCF?

RCF provides NHS organisations with:

  • access to flexible funding
  • a means for developing and sustaining research capability, meeting the costs of key research support staff not funded in other ways
  • help building critical mass, because increased research capacity attracts additional NIHR research income and so attracts a greater share of RCF
  • a financial contribution towards the costs incurred by research-active NHS organisations hosting research funded by the NIHR, or its funding partners
  • funding for developing research management capabilities in those Trusts where R&D departments have been reconfigured within NHS research support services.

How much funding is available?

The sum awarded to each organisation is proportional to the total amount of other NIHR income received by that organisation.

The funding awarded for each type of NIHR income is weighted to reflect the nature of the various NIHR funding schemes:

  • funding from NIHR research programmes is given the highest weighting, to take account of the relatively short duration and relative inflexibility of project and programme awards
  • other funding (Centres and Infrastructure) attracts a lower weighting to reflect its relative stability
  • existing Senior Investigators earn an allocation to the primary NHS organisation with which they are associated, on a per capita basis.

See the RCF allocations 2021-22.

What can RCF be spent on?

The primary use of RCF is to help the NHS to retain research active staff, staff who are between grants, and support staff. The next call on RCF is to meet unfunded indirect costs of research. The recipient organisation also has discretion to meet other costs associated with the preparation of bids for research funding for the NIHR of its funding partners.

For example, RCF can be spent on:

  • the research-related component of NIHR researchers’ salaries and those of their researchers and research support staff
  • salary costs of researchers seeking NIHR funding, preparing proposals for NIHR funding or ‘between grants’
  • net costs incurred by a host organisation in meeting the salary of an individual supported by NIHR who is on maternity, paternity or long-term sick leave
  • accommodation costs, finance management costs, and human resource costs incurred in hosting NIHR-funded research.

More information on the permitted uses of RCF is available in our FAQ document.

Our report on use of NIHR Research Capability Funding in 2019-20 contains an analysis of RCF spend allocated to NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in 2019-20, as well as a sample of impact statements submitted by organisations in receipt of RCF showing how they’ve used the funding and some examples of the ways in which RCF recipients gain benefit from their allocation.

How do I apply for RCF?

There is no central application process for RCF. RCF is allocated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to the NHS, and it is for the recipient organisation to determine how to use its allocation (within the constraints of the permitted use of RCF and the local R&D strategy). Some organisations may operate an internal process for researchers to apply for RCF, but this is not necessarily the case.

Did RCF change in 2018?

The formula used to allocate RCF was revised in 2018. The total annual allocation will be gradually reduced from 2019/20 onwards, and organisations will no longer receive RCF for new NIHR Senior Investigators.

Find out more in our Q&A on the outcome of the Research Capability Funding review.

How can I find out more about RCF?

You can find out more in our FAQ document.

Questions about RCF should be directed to Claire Owen
Deputy Manager, Research Finance Policy, DHSC