We study collaborative and non-collaborative projects that are supported by government grants. First, we propose a theoretical framework to analyze optimal decisions in these projects. Second, we test our hypotheses with a unique dataset containing academic publications and research funds for all the academics at the major engineering departments in the UK. We find that the type of the project (measured by its level of appliedness) is increasing in the type of both the university and firm partners. Also, the quality of the project (number and impact of the publications) increases with the quality of the researcher and firm, and with the affinity in the partners’ preferences. The collaboration with firms increases the quality of the project only when the firms’ characteristics make them valuable partners.