Scope of scheme
Strategic equipment is intended to enhance UK scientific capability and support a portfolio of high quality, cutting edge research of high priority to EPSRC. The request should fit with the host university strategy and enable research that predominantly falls within EPSRC’s remit.
Strategic equipment encompasses a very wide range of equipment. However, all requests should include the following details:
- appropriate use
- appropriate strategy.
Information to provide in the request
The cost of the requested item of equipment must meet the minimum threshold of £400,000. The threshold can be met by a single item of equipment or by several items that are clearly intended to be combined in a single asset. The threshold cannot be met by the accumulated total of a number of individual items of standalone equipment.
There is no maximum limit to a strategic equipment bid, however applicants considering a submission with a high overall cost (of more than £3 million) are advised to consult EPSRC in advance, which will help us in our overall budget planning.
EPSRC wishes to encourage a culture of sharing with regards to items of strategic equipment in order to gain appropriate maximum usage.
Items requested must be multi-user in nature and access could be shared across an institution, either regionally or nationally. The applicant should discuss why the access model presented is the most appropriate for the equipment and the anticipated current and future use base.
Strategic equipment is not a route for project specific equipment or for items for the sole use of a single research group.
Applicants must articulate a good strategic case for the item requested and make it clear to whom the equipment is strategic to, ranging from research group to international.
There are a number of reasons why an item of equipment could be strategic. These include (but are not limited to):
- the equipment would enable transformative research of high importance to EPSRC and the UK
- the equipment would enable the whole of the UK to remain or become world-leading as a result of the research enabled
- the equipment would enhance capacity and capability at the host institution enabling it to retain a competitive edge in areas of research that are a high priority for the university
- the equipment will accelerate the careers of a critical mass of early career researchers and/or research technical professionals.
The strategic staircase
The strategic staircase is a way of linking:
- strategic importance
- the scale of the equipment use
- EPSRC’s equipment funding options.
Strategic importance is about how the equipment enhances UK scientific capability and supports high quality research important to EPSRC.
There are different levels of strategic importance that all have a place in the EPSRC portfolio.
Strategic importance level 1
Scale: research group
Funding option: equipment on grants funding
Strategic importance level 2
- core equipment
- local or regional strategic equipment.
Strategic importance level 3
- core equipment
- local or regional strategic equipment.
Strategic importance level 4
Scale: EPSRC, community or national
Funding option: national strategic equipment
Strategic importance level 5
- national research facilities
- UKRI infrastructure fund.
Hypothetical examples of strategic equipment
A state-of-the-art instrument which would be the first of its kind in the UK has been requested by a university. The unique capability would enable transformative research across several fields of research and a number of groups across the UK.
The host recognises that other institutions would want to access the novel equipment so 40% of instrument time would be open access with external steering committee members prioritising requests for access.
A university requests a standard specification NMR instrument along with a high specification probe. The instrument will support a wide range of researchers across the university who all require access to the novel probe and will utilise the instrument fully.
The research enabled by the enhanced capability of the instrument aligns with the university’s strategic priorities and will allow it to boost its national (and potentially international) competitiveness in these areas.
The new instrument will also enhance capacity, allowing increased access for a cohort of researchers, accelerating their research. Any spare capacity will be advertised to external users across the region and to industry.
A university requests a very high specification mass spectrometer that would be unique to the UK. The university specialises in mass spectrometry and therefore the instrument would support a large number of groups internally, with a large portfolio of existing research grants.
The instrument has the potential to transform the field of research and/or will allow the university to retain its world-leading edge in the area.
The university recognises that the unique instrument will be of interest to other institutions and therefore will reserve a percentage of time on the equipment for external users and have a proactive plan for attracting such users.
A university has recently recruited a number of early career researchers (ECR) in areas of research that are a strategic strength for the institution. The university requested an item of equipment that would drive forward the ECRs’ research and careers enabling the academics to establish themselves as competitive researchers, as well as strengthening the position of the university in an important area.
A two-page outline proposal can be submitted to EPSRC at any time through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. The outline proposals are batched and then assessed against the published assessment criteria by the internal EPSRC outline panel. The outline panel meets about three times a year.
EPSRC either invites a full proposal as a separate proposal through Je-S or does not invite a full proposal. Successful applicants will have at least seven weeks to prepare their application.
Full proposal stage
Full proposals are assessed by a postal peer review stage. Unsupportive reviews may lead to the proposal being rejected prior to the panel. If supportive reviews are received these are shared with the applicant and the applicant can provide a two-page Principal Investigator (PI) response.
Interviews with the external strategic equipment panel are held up to three times a year. The strategic equipment panel provides a rank-ordered list based on the published assessment criteria and advises on whether the equipment should be funded.
The process from submission of an outline through to a decision on a full application takes approximately eight to nine months.