Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: EPSRC programme grant outline stage January 2024

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Programme grants provide flexible funding to world-leading research groups addressing significant major research challenges.

Funding should bring together the expertise of a team of internationally recognised scientists or engineers to focus on one strategic research theme.

We see programme grants as critical mass investments, which cover a diverse engineering and physical sciences (EPS) portfolio. They benefit UK research through the concentration of high-performing talent.

Funding can be awarded for up to six years.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for EPSRC funding.

Who can apply

You can only apply for this funding opportunity if we have invited you to do so following a successful pre-outline application. Programme grant pre-outline form.

Before applying for funding, check the Eligibility of your organisation.

EPSRC standard eligibility rules apply. For full details, visit EPSRC’s eligibility page.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

What we're looking for

Scope

Programme grants provide flexible funding to world-leading research groups seeking to address significant research challenges across the EPSRC remit. We expect most successful applications to be interdisciplinary and collaborative, but they can also address key challenges in a single discipline. They are not just large grants, they must be strategic in nature.

We are looking for proposals that:

  • bring together the best researchers to tackle bigger, more open-ended challenges in a coherent and holistic way
  • build partnerships between universities and promote cross-disciplinary working
  • provide freedom to conduct feasibility studies, cross-fertilise ideas and build up new skill sets
  • create greater visibility nationally and internationally among other researchers and industry
  • help to bring in other researchers, attract more funding and promote UK science
  • allow early career researchers in the team to be given greater independence and responsibility, and promote their career development
  • offer grant holders flexibility to allocate resources between different projects and respond quickly to new challenges

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.

Partnership

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 multidisciplinary 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.

Creativity

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.

Career development

Programme grants are seen as a good environment for ECRs with longer term career development. The flexibility and longer durations allow the investigators 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.

Flexibility

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.

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.

We expect 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.

We strongly encourage you 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.

Responsible innovation

We are 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. We expect you to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.

Sustainability

You 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.

Duration

The duration of this award is up to six years.

Funding available

EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

The funding available depends on the theme of your project.

You should have discussed the funding for your project at the pre-outline stage.

Quotes for equipment do not need to be included in your application, but please retain quotes for equipment costing more than £138,000 as we may ask for these at post-panel stage before releasing funds.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

International collaboration

If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit UKRI’s trusted research and innovation for more information on effective international collaboration.

Find out about getting funding for international collaboration.

How to apply

We are running this funding opportunity on the new UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Funding Service. You cannot apply on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UKRI.

To apply

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of this Funding finder page.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email support@funding-service.ukri.org
    Please allow at least 10 working days for your organisation to be added to the Funding Service.
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the How to apply section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Where indicated, you can also demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. You should:

  • use images sparingly and only to convey important information that cannot easily be put into words
  • insert each new image onto a new line
  • provide a descriptive legend for each image immediately underneath it (this counts towards your word limit)
  • ensure files are smaller than 5MB and in JPEG, JPG, JPE, JFI, JIF, JFIF, PNG, GIF, BMP or WEBP format

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.

For more guidance on the Funding Service, see:

Deadline

EPSRC must receive your application by 25 June 2024 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines.

Following the submission of your application to the funding opportunity, your application cannot be changed, and applications will not be returned for amendment. If your application does not follow the guidance, it may be rejected. If an application is withdrawn prior to peer review or office rejected due to substantive errors in the application, it cannot be resubmitted to the opportunity.

Personal data

Processing personal data

EPSRC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your Funding Service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

Publication of outcomes

EPSRC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity.

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.

Summary

Word limit: 550

In plain English, provide a summary we can use to identify the most suitable experts to assess your application.

We may make this summary publicly available on external-facing websites, so make it suitable for a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the public
  • the wider research community

Guidance for writing a summary

Clearly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Core team

List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead (UK) (PcL)
  • project co-lead (international) (PcL (I)
  • researcher co-lead (RcL)
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician

Only list one individual as project lead.

Find out more about UKRI’s core team roles in funding applications.

Application questions

Vision and capability

Create a document that includes your responses to all criteria. The document should not be more than four sides of A4, single spaced in paper in 11-point Arial (or equivalent sans serif font) with margins of at least 2cm. You may include images, graphs, tables. You can have an additional page for a diagrammatic work plan.

For the file name, use the unique Funding Service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Vision and capability’.

Save this document as a single PDF file, no bigger than 8MB. Unless specifically requested, do not include any sensitive data within the attachment.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply.

What are you hoping to achieve with and how will you deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

For the Vision, explain:

  • the vision for your proposed work, demonstrating its timeliness and importance
  • the value of long term funding and flexibility of resources for your proposed work
  • how the proposed work represents a coherent programme of inter-related projects and other research activities rather than individual project grants

For Capability, explain:

  • how the proposed team has the ability to lead, establish or maintain a unique world leading research activity
  • the proposed management and monitoring structures that you will put in place

References

Word limit: 1,000

List the references you have used to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include all references in this section, not in the rest of the application questions.

You should not include any other information in this section.

We advise you not to include hyperlinks, as assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application.

If linking to web resources, to maintain the information’s integrity, include persistent identifiers (such as digital object identifiers) where possible.

You must not include links to web resources to extend your application.

Project partners

Add details about any project partners’ contributions. If there are no project partners, you can indicate this on the Funding Service. Please note that, at outline stage, this information is only indicative. We do not expect the information supplied to be complete, and changes at the full stage to both the partner organisations named, and their contributions, is permitted.

A project partner is a collaborating organisation who will have an integral role in the proposed research. This may include direct (cash) or indirect (in-kind) contributions such as expertise, staff time or use of facilities.

Add the following project partner details:

  • the organisation name and address (searchable via a drop-down list or enter the organisation’s details manually, as applicable)
  • the project partner contact name and email address
  • the type of contribution (direct or in-direct) and its monetary value

If a detail is entered incorrectly and you have saved the entry, remove the specific project partner record and re-add it with the correct information.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

Outline costs

Provide the approximate total values in GBP (£) for the expected Directly Incurred, Directly Allocated, Indirect costs and Exceptions.

Guidance about costs you can apply for.

You should record costs on the outline application as accurately as possible. We do not expect any quotations at this stage, but the overall cost of applications submitted in the full application stage should be within 10% of the cost proposed at this stage.

What the assessors are looking for

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources. Overall, they want you to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Outline application stage

Panel

Outline proposals will undergo standard EPSRC checks for remit and documentation. We will invite a panel of experts to review your outline application independently, against the specified criteria for this funding opportunity. The panel will determine which submissions to take forward to full stage applications.

Panel members will be drawn from the academic and user base within the UK.

Applicants who are successful at the outline stage will be invited to submit a full application.

Outline assessment criteria

Section: Vision and capability

Have the applicants:

  • provided a suitable and timely vision, and shown the demonstrable importance of the proposed research
  • evidenced the value of long term funding and flexibility of resources
  • shown how the proposed work represents a coherent programme of inter-related projects and other research activities rather than individual project grants
  • demonstrated the team’s ability to lead, establish or maintain a unique world leading research activity
  • described appropriate management and monitoring structures

Find details of assessment questions and criteria under the ‘Application questions’ heading in the ‘How to apply’ section.

Section: Outline costs

Have the applicants demonstrated how the resources needed for the proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

Full application stage

Full applications will be sent to expert peer reviewers. Applications that do not receive sufficiently strong support from reviewers will be rejected. Those with sufficiently favourable reviewers’ comments will be assessed via an interview stage. You will be notified of which interview panel the proposal will be assigned to and will be able to respond to the reviewers’ comments in the normal way prior to the panel.

Feedback

EPSRC will give feedback with the outcome of your application.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

Contact details

Get help with your application

If you have a question and the answers aren’t provided on this page

Important note: The helpdesk is committed to helping users of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Funding Service as effectively and as quickly as possible. In order to manage cases at peak volume times, the helpdesk will triage and prioritise those queries with an imminent funding opportunity deadline or a technical issue. Enquiries raised where information is available on the Funding Finder opportunity page and should be understood early in the application process (for example, regarding eligibility, content or remit of a funding opportunity) will not constitute a priority case and will be addressed as soon as possible.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

For questions related to this specific funding opportunity please contact your EPSRC programme grant contact.

Any queries regarding the system or the submission of applications through the Funding Service should be directed to the helpdesk.

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org
Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

To help us process queries quicker, we request that users highlight the council and opportunity name in the subject title of their email query, include the application reference number, and refrain from contacting more than one mailbox at a time.

Find information on submitting an application.

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, please contact tfschangeepsrc@epsrc.ukri.org

Include in the subject line: [the funding opportunity title; sensitive information; your Funding Service application number].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection
  • the application is an invited resubmission

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, read UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Background

For more information on the wider programme grant scheme please see the dedicated programme grant web page.

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Updates

  • 9 February 2024
    Added programme grant pre-outline form to the 'Who can apply' section.

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