Most public funding of research in higher education institutions is administered by one of the UK research councils. Research councils are specifically excepted from the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales (see paragraph 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006). Research councils are also a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Public funding of research is therefore largely administered on a UK wide basis by the research councils. The research councils are established by Royal Charter. Provisions relating to the role and funding of scientific research councils are set out in the Science and Technology Act 1965 and provisions relating to the Arts and Humanities Research Council are set out in Part I of the Higher Education Act 2004.
Research at higher education institutions in Wales may also, in part, be funded by the Welsh Ministers under their funding powers in section 68 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This section allows the Welsh Ministers to make grants to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) which in turn will make funds available to higher education institutions to finance research (amongst other things). The grants made by the Welsh Ministers may be subject to such conditions as the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate except that these conditions may not:
- relate to the provision of financial support by HEFCW in respect of activities carried on by any particular institution; or
- be framed by reference to particular courses of study or programmes of research.
Therefore, although funding provided by the Welsh Ministers may be used for research, the Welsh Ministers cannot use their funding powers under section 68 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 to directly fund particular research. The intention of this is to keep the government at arms' length from the higher education sector and to maintain academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
However, there are some narrower funding powers that may be used to enable the Welsh Ministers to finance particular programmes of research:
- section 5 of the Science and Technology Act 1965 allows the Welsh Ministers to provide financial support to carry on or support scientific research, to disseminate the results of scientific research or to further the practical application of the results of scientific research, ('scientific research' means research and development in any of the sciences or in technology);
- section 34(1)(f) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 allows the Welsh Ministers to secure the provision of financial resources to persons undertaking or proposing to undertake research relating to education or training;
- section 14 of the Education Act 2002 allows the Welsh Ministers to give, or make arrangements for giving, financial assistance to any person for or in connection with the purpose of the promotion of research;
- section 10 of the Higher Education Act 2004 gives a power to the Welsh Ministers, in relation to Wales, to carry out or support research in the arts and humanities, disseminate the results of such research and further the practical application of the results of research in the arts and humanities (under this section the Welsh Ministers can also establish bodies for the purpose of assisting them in matters connected with research in the arts and humanities).