Abuse of research funding systems

Research budgets from public and philanthropic funds are limited, meaning there is intense competition to attract and receive grants. Many countries have a well-defined methodology or points system to determine who gets that money. However, despite this apparent transparency, the system is open to multiple types of corruption, with resulting distortions to health research priorities.

Running studies generates sizeable income for universities and can fund departments for many years. There is pressure on academics to raise these funds given that public funding has significantly decreased. Applications from researchers for such funds may be spun and may contain an overly positive interpretation of studies conducted so far, in order to increase the chance of success. This potentially diverts money from other areas of research.

Without robust management of conflicts of interest, judges on panels deciding whom gets research funding may decide to give grants to friends, colleagues or reject grants from competitors – which in turn has a negative impact on health research.

Once the grant has been awarded, there is a risk that it may not be used for the reasons it was awarded. It may be used to fund different research activities within the institution, including those that have previously been rejected, or acquire equipment and upgrade the research facilities. Whilst this may be down to mismanagement rather than straightforward corruption, the boundaries are blurred.