Aim of the scheme
Programme grants are a mechanism to provide flexible funding to world-leading research groups to address significant major research challenges.
They are intended to support world leading researchers, bringing together ‘best with best’ teams to undertake a variety of activities focusing on one strategic research theme.
Programme grants can be awarded for up to a six year duration.
It is expected that most programme grants will be interdisciplinary and collaborative but they can address key challenges in a single discipline.
They are seen by EPSRC as critical mass investments which cover a diverse engineering and physical sciences (EPS) portfolio and benefit UK research through the concentration of high performing talent.
Programme grants are not just large grants but must be strategic in nature. It is also likely that the majority will require the expertise of a number of internationally recognised scientists or engineers.
Under the UKRI-RCN Money Follows Cooperation Agreement a project co-lead can be based in a Norwegian institution.
Programme grants are assessed in a different way to standard grants.
Applicants go through a pre-outline and outline stage before being invited to submit a full proposal.
We’ve improved the programme grants scheme. To find out about what’s changed get in touch with the Programme Grants team.
Key features of a programme grant
Quality and ambition
A programme grant is seen as a scheme that attracts best with best and allows researchers to tackle bigger, more open-ended problems, tackled through a more coherent or holistic approach.
The stability in tackling a longer range vision helps motivate teams, provides the freedom required to take risks, and enables longer term planning.
The scale of activity is seen to create stronger links between the universities involved and greater visibility at a national and international level.
The size of programme grants allows for the assembly of the best team and collaborators, all with complementary expertise leading to the development of effective multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary working.
The duration of programme grants allows investment by the team in building effective collaborations. The scale of a programme grant leads to industry interest beyond the original project partners and greater input from the wider community, including industry, resulting in more external visibility on the research direction for the area.
The programme grant mechanism provides freedom to scope new opportunities, allows the team to cross-fertilise ideas, and build up new skills sets. This allows the team to develop new themes, and to trade ideas and resources.
The stability of the grant allows early career researchers (ECRs) in the team to express their creativity and pose ideas for investigation. In addition, the grant holder is able to concentrate on the science challenges rather than grant writing.
Impact and advocacy
Programme grants are seen to have greater visibility and recognition within the universities involved and the relevant research communities at both a national and international level. This gives the programme grant team more influence than smaller scale research activities.
They are able to attract more visits and engagement with high quality researchers and external stakeholders, leverage other funding, and influence wider strategies. The visibility also enhances the opportunities for outreach and advocacy, promoting UK science.
Programme grants are seen as a good environment for ECRs with longer term career development. The flexibility and longer durations allows the project lead to empower junior team members giving them greater independence through more responsibility and leadership over activities.
Postdoctoral staff gain a broader experience due to the breadth of experience and expertise in the team and there are greater opportunities for secondments, mentoring and involvement in management. This makes programme grants an attractive employment prospect leading to higher quality recruitment. PhD students are often aligned to programme grant teams, also benefiting from interacting with a team of broader expertise and activity.
The flexibility programme grant holders are afforded is seen as a real strength of the scheme. The flexibility enables a more dynamic allocation of resources and a nimble approach to recruitment or the individual projects being undertaken.
The scheme does not allow for flexible pots of cash or unassigned funds, instead funding should be provisionally assigned at the start of the project (for example, to post-doctoral research assistants or consumables). This funding can then be reallocated and redeployed subject to project needs.
The independent advisory boards are seen as a crucial element of identifying what projects should be shut down, freeing up resources for other strands. The resulting agility allows the team to undertake aggressive triage if necessary and respond more quickly to new and evolving challenges.
There are a number of expectations EPSRC holds for programme grants.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
The long term strength of the UK research base depends on harnessing all the available talent. EPSRC expects that equality and diversity is embedded at all levels and in all aspects of research practice and funding policy.
We are committed to supporting the research community, offering a range of flexible options which allow applicants to design a package that fits their research goals, career and personal circumstances. This includes career breaks, support for people with caring responsibilities, flexible working and alternative working patterns. With this in mind, we welcome applications from academics who job share, have a part-time contract, or need flexible working arrangements.
Peer review is central to EPSRC funding decisions, we require expert advice and robust decision making processes for all EPSRC funding initiatives. We are committed to ensuring that fairness is fully reflected in all our funding processes by advancing policy which supports equality, diversity and inclusion.
- about support from EPSRC including career breaks, flexible working and care costs
- how EPSRC aims to support a diverse and inclusive research environment
EPSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation.
Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.
We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.
Responsible innovation creates spaces and processes to explore innovation and its consequences in an open, inclusive and timely way, going beyond consideration of ethics, public engagement, risk and regulation.
Innovation is a collective responsibility, where funders, researchers, interested and affected parties, including the public, all have an important role to play. Applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.
Management and monitoring
Programme grants should have effective management and monitoring arrangements for the investment. This should include a risk management strategy and a strategy for how the flexibility of resources will be managed.
EPSRC expects all programme grants to establish and run an independent advisory board, or equivalent body, to provide advice and recommendations on the strategic scientific and research direction and activities (such as impact, advocacy and outreach) of the programme grant.
This independent advisory board must meet at least annually. This group should have at least 50% independent membership and an independent chair.
EPSRC strongly encourages applicants to consider costing in project management and other administrative support such as employing a full-time equivalent project manager, and not relying on the project lead for these duties.
Programme grant holders should look to consider the sustainability of the research activities during the lifetime of the programme grant and following the end of the programme grant. Consideration should be given to all available funding mechanisms.