EPSRC strategy is developed by council on the basis of a wide variety of inputs, including internal and external advice. A high-level strategic plan is agreed and published every four years. A more detailed delivery plan is then prepared and agreed by council setting out how the strategy will be realised. This forms the EPSRC submission into the government Spending Review, based on which EPSRC receives an overall funding allocation.
Heads of theme are senior managers within EPSRC, each responsible for managing one of the major themes of the EPSRC portfolio. The head of theme is responsible for holding the theme budget and for using it to deliver an effective programme of activity to fulfil the council strategy relevant to that theme. In delivering this programme, Heads of theme work collaboratively in support of multidisciplinary research and training.
Following the government funding allocation, EPSRC Council determines the budget allocation for each theme, considering input from the heads of theme and their strategic advisory teams (SATs) or equivalent body. Heads of theme are then responsible for managing their theme budget as allocated by council, ensuring that they deliver against the agreed strategy.
Heads of theme must balance the competing funding opportunities on the theme budget, retaining a degree of flexibility to meet new or unanticipated needs as these arise. Building on the advice of their SATs and their own understanding of the portfolio, the heads of theme estimate the allocation of funds needed for different activities across the year. They are is then responsible for managing the budget allocated to commit to new investments within the targets agreed by EPSRC Council. In order to achieve this, they are required to meet these commitment targets on a quarterly basis. Interdisciplinary cross-research council themes led by EPSRC (such as energy and digital economy) engage with their partner research councils and others such as Innovate UK, to help work coherently across disciplines and leverage additional funding.
Theme leaders use the knowledge and understanding of their portfolio, including historical and projected demand, to estimate the budget needed. The investments across different panels are a function of the quality of the proposals, the level of demand and availability of funds to commit to new grants in that financial quarter.
Each panel produces a merit rank order of the proposals it has considered, having taken all relevant criteria into account. The final rank-ordered list signed by the chair of the panel becomes a formal record of the output of the panel. The head of theme determines the funding cut-off based on the available budget and relative quality guided by peer review comments, and drawing in joint funding from other themes where appropriate, with the aim of maintaining a broad parity between panels in terms of the quality of research funded.
When determining the funding cut-off, heads of theme may defer funding decisions until a later panel to enable consistency across the financial year. Decisions on financial deferrals are made by the theme leader based on a number of principles and considerations. Financial deferral may be used:
- if, based on the panel’s assessment, the proposals are judged to be very close in terms of quality on either side of the funding line
- if, at a given panel, demand has been high relative to previous panels or if a small number of high-value proposals have been ranked at the top of a rank-ordered list
- if there is an understanding of likely demand at subsequent panels which indicates that a proportion of proposals should reasonably be financially deferred from one panel to the next.
It is the responsibility of the heads of theme to develop a balanced range of managed activities for the theme. They do this through engagement with the academic and business community and with the advice of both council and their own SATs. Managed activities include targeted funding opportunities, as well as workshops, events, and visits. Targeted funding opportunities can be identified in response to:
- research or policy opportunities or structural weaknesses identified by the researchers or users of research
- specific government priorities and policy drivers
- broader EPSRC strategic priorities
- long-term industrially inspired challenges
- opportunities to work with key national or international partners.
A targeted funding opportunities can also be identified if required to deliver the strategy for a theme.
Once a potential targeted funding opportunity is identified, its scope and remit is defined and a budget agreed commensurate with the aims and desired scale of activity. The peer review process to be followed is also determined to best suit the activity, as explained within the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making. All funding opportunities include information about how proposals are to be assessed.
Budget allocation diagram
Last updated: 17 August 2023