In the United Kingdom, science funding is fundamental to keeping the research and development in the nation flourishing. 

While a lot of research and development projects are funded by government grants, there are many large and small scale private sponsors across the UK, who invest in research and science programmes. One of the largest and most significant free science funders in the UK is the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which is an organisation that works in partnership with research councils, academies, departments, and other funders, to provide funding for research and development projects. This article aims to provide an overview of UKRI – including its objectives, activities, and budget – and to discuss how this major UK funder is supporting research and science in the UK.


Established in April 2018, UKRI aims to promote the best use of public research and development funding, support world-leading research and development, and provide the best return on investment from research and innovation. The major goals of the UKRI are to:

  • Invest strategically in research and evaluation

  • Provide access to finance to help drive innovation and economic growth

  • Facilitate, fund and deliver world-leading research and research training

  • Optimise the impact of investments

  • Promote public involvement in research

  • Foster international collaboration through exchange programmes


In pursuit of its objectives, UKRI works in partnership with many organisations, including research councils, academies, and departments, to provide the most effective research and development funding. UKRI currently offers four main types of funding:

  • Strategic Funds: This allows UKRI to fund larger scale research programmes and to support a broader range of activities across the research and innovation sector. This includes funding for research, evaluation, and economy-wide activities.

  • Challenge Funds: These provide funding for interdisciplinary research, which allows for innovative solutions to big research challenges.

  • Large Grants: Large Grants are awarded for ambitious and ground-breaking research programmes or projects.

  • Small Grants: Small Grants are awarded for research projects that are likely to have small but significant impact.

Through these types of funding, UKRI can support research projects in all areas of the research into science, engineering, and innovation in the UK.


In 2020/21, UKRI has a budget of £6.8 billion to invest in research, development and innovation projects. This is a 3.2% increase on the previous year’s budget and reflects the government’s commitment to science and research. UKRI’s budget is made up of:

  • Strategic Funds: £3.9 billion
  • Challenge Funds: £1.3 billion
  • Large grants: £1.2 billion
  • Small grants: £0.4 billion

The budget is also supported by allocations of funds from the various partner research councils, academies, and departments.

Success Stories

Since UKRI was first established, it has had many successes. Here are some of the most impressive:

  • Investing in AI research: UKRI has invested £300 million in Artificial Intelligence research, to help the UK stay at the forefront of the AI revolution.

  • Funding breakthrough discoveries: UKRI has funded a number of major discoveries and inventions, including the discovery of the gene that causes Huntington’s disease, the development of the world’s smallest “robot” molecule motor, and the development of a new type of vaccine for use during outbreaks.

  • Supporting underserved communities: UKRI has provided funding for research projects looking into the impact of AI on consumers, the role of genetic diversity in disease, and the development of new drugs for neglected tropical diseases.

  • Developing new technologies: UKRI has funded major initiatives in areas such as quantum technologies, driverless cars, nanotechnology, and smart cities.

The United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a major UK free science funder, which has been set up to promote the best use of public research and development funding. UKRI works in partnership with research councils, academies, and departments to provide funding for research, evaluation, economy-wide activities, and more. UKRI currently has a budget of £6.8 billion to invest in research and development projects, with a focus on areas such as Artificial Intelligence, genetics, nanotechnology, and quantum technologies. UKRI’s success stories demonstrate its outstanding commitment to supporting research and science in the UK. UKRI is a major free science funder that is making a real difference to research and science in the UK.