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MRC Institutes, Units and Centres


What are Institutes, Units and Centres?


Institutes are very long-term flexible multidisciplinary investments. They are charged with adopting broad multidisciplinary approaches to address major challenges in health-related research often requiring ground breaking methodology and technology development. They are provided with sustained support and state-of-the-art facilities over a long period of time. They offer scientists maximum flexibility to engage in innovative ‘risky’ research, avoiding traditional university-style departmental boundaries.


Institutes attract and develop outstanding students and early career scientists from the UK and internationally, providing in-depth, advanced research training, and a broad multidisciplinary research environment.



Units are set up to meet specific needs or to tackle important research questions where the need cannot easily be addressed through grant funding. They comprise of a cohesive set of broad-based research programmes led by well-established principal investigators, overseen by a director. Units are fully-funded by the MRC and there is no set limit on the lifespan of a unit.


Units attract and develop outstanding students and early career programme leaders from the UK and internationally and often have a major impact through developing future research leaders in their specialist areas.


There are two types of unit: the long-established and well-known intramural units (where the MRC is the main employer) and the newer university units (where the university is the main employer). The expectations of their scientific mission, their distinctiveness, the role of director, and research productivity are the same in both models.


University units are either established from scratch, or through transfer of an existing MRC unit to a university. Those MRC intramural units which evolve into university units can potentially benefit from new scientific opportunities and funding streams, strengthened integration with university research activities and efficiency gains/cost savings which can then be re-invested into science. Both the host university and the MRC also benefit from enhanced branding and prestige.

MRC Unit transfer to University Units – key MRC policy principles

The full MRC policy on University Units is available on request from



Centres allow the MRC to help universities develop and consolidate internationally competitive, high-profile centres of excellence with a clear strategic direction in areas of importance for UK medical research. They provide intellectually stimulating and well-resourced programmes and environments which are attractive not only to established researchers but also to new investigators.


Centres, like units and institutes, have an important role in capacity development in a focussed area, with the MRC’s funding for training often focussed at the PhD and individual fellowship level, in both clinical and non-clinical research.


MRC core funding is provided for a set period to develop the centre’s capabilities and research strategy, and is expected to help universities attract further support from other funders as well as the MRC.



The policy for supporting institutes, units & centres gives more information.


Reviewing MRC investments

All institute/unit/centre investments are reviewed every five years. See the Summary of MRC Quinquennial Reviews document for further information.


Current figures

Current figures

As of January 2014, the Medical Research Council has:

  • 3 institutes
  • 27 units (11 intramural units and 16 university units)
  • 25 centres and related charity partnerships



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