Concentration or dispersal of research funding?

Kaare Aagaard, Alexander Kladakis, Mathias Wullum Nielsen

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The relationship between the distribution of research funding and scientific performance is a major discussion point in many science policy contexts. Do high shares of funding handed out to a limited number of elite scientists yield the most value for money, or is scientific progress better supported by allocating resources in smaller portions to more teams and individuals? In this review article, we seek to qualify discussions on the benefits and drawbacks of concentrating research funds on fewer individuals and groups. Based on an initial screening of 3,567 articles and a thorough examination of 92 papers, we present a condensation of central arguments. Further, we juxtapose key findings from 20 years of empirical research on the relation between the size of research grants and scientific performance. Overall, the review demonstrates a strong inclination toward arguments in favor of increased dispersal. A substantial body of empirical research also exhibits stagnant or diminishing returns to scale for the relationship between grant size and research performance. The findings question the rationale behind current funding trends and point toward more efficient ways to allocate resources. In addition, they highlight the need for more research on the interplay between science-internal mechanisms and policy priorities in accelerating concentration of funding.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQuantitative Science Studies
Pages (from-to)117-149
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Diversity
  • Funding concentration
  • Research funding
  • Research performance
  • Research policy


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