Check if you’re eligible for funding - NERC


Eligibility of applicants

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is introducing new role types for opportunities being run on the new Funding Service from 22 May 2023. For full details please visit eligibility as an individual.

Individual funding eligibility criteria vary depending on the applicant’s role in the proposed research.

Project lead (previously principal investigator)

The project lead on the application must reside in the UK and be employed by an eligible UK research organisation:

  • higher education institution
  • research council institute
  • recognised independent research organisation
  • public sector research establishment
  • Catapults

Employment should be at lecturer (or equivalent) level or above.

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) staff at band six level and above are eligible to apply as project leads. NERC staff at band six must have at least three years’ postdoctoral research experience and have been employed by NERC for at least a year. Staff at Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) research organisations, at band E level or above, are also eligible to apply as a project lead.

As the first funder to sign the Technician Commitment, UKRI recognises the value of technical expertise to the UK research workforce. To reflect this, NERC welcomes applications from eligible facility staff as either project lead or project co-lead (previously co-investigators).

Other senior university research personnel with appointments resourced from the central funds of their institutions at the time of application may also apply. They should carry both a level of responsibility and range of duties appropriate to a person with substantial research experiences, for example they occupy a post equating to at least lecturer level.

Holders of research fellowships from the research councils and university research fellowships from the Royal Society are eligible (subject to other rules in the research grants and fellowships handbook).

Fellowships awarded by other funders (charities, public sector organisations and eligible UK higher education institutions) are also eligible to apply as project leads as long as the fellowship has a status equating to that of at least lecturer level and has been secured in open competition.

The fellowship’s terms and conditions must also allow the fellow to apply for further grants and funding. A statement from departmental heads confirming that these conditions are met should accompany any application submitted.

At the time of application the project lead must be either:

  • employed by the research organisation submitting the application or, if not employed, have an existing formal arrangement with the organisation that enables him or her to carry out research there and receive all necessary management and infrastructure support from the organisation
  • scheduled to move to the submitting organisation before the proposed start date of the grant in such a way that would ensure that the criterion stated above is met by the time the grant starts

In addition, the project lead must have an assurance from the submitting organisation that, if the application is successful, the contract of employment, or formal commitment to provide support if not employed, will extend beyond the end date of the grant. Confirmation of this assurance from departmental heads should accompany any grant application.

The exception to this is research council fellows whose award does not extend beyond the proposed end date of the grant. In such cases, research council fellows may apply for the cost of their salary to the end of the grant.

Roles not eligible to apply as project leads

The following are not eligible to apply as project leads:

  • research assistants
  • junior technicians
  • other researchers who are employed on short-term projects or research council grants
  • holders of fellowships that were not awarded following open competition

Individuals must check their own eligibility before submitting any application to NERC.

Where the project lead or co-lead is retired (or will retire before the end of the grant), or holds a senior non-stipendiary post, the expectation is that their involvement in a project would be covered by a contract with the research organisation. Such costs are likely to be a directly incurred cost.

Project co-leads (formerly co-investigator)

Project co-leads are normally expected to meet the eligibility criteria for a project lead and should be able to take over from the project lead if required.

Further eligibility criteria may apply for specific funding opportunities.

Researcher co-lead (previously research co-investigator)

A postdoctoral research assistant (PDRA) who is not eligible to be a project lead or co-lead, but has made a substantial contribution to formulating and developing the application and will be closely involved with the project (if funded) may be identified as a researcher co-lead.

A researcher co-lead must be:

  • a named researcher on the project and seek their salary as a directly incurred cost
  • employed by the same research organisation as either the project lead or one of the project co-leads
  • employed at band six (NERC) or band D (BBSRC) or higher if applying from a NERC or BBSRC research organisation

A researcher co-lead may not take over from the project lead.

Full details of the eligibility criteria for both individual applicants and research organisations, can be found in the research grants and fellowships handbook.

Project co-lead (international)

An international project co-lead (previously co-investigator) must meet the same criteria as a UK project co-lead, but can be employed by organisations where NERC has a specific agreement to fund some international costs.

Since 1 January 2020, it has been possible to include costs for collaborators based at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in line with the funding for UK membership of IIASA. An agreement between UKRI and Norway applies to NERC funding opportunities published from November 2022. An international project co-lead can not take over as project lead on a grant.

Further international project co-lead agreements may be introduced.

Individual funding opportunities will specify the IIASA and Norway agreement. The international project co-lead agreement does not apply to all UKRI funding opportunities.

Funding for eligible international project co-lead

IIASA or Norwegian project co-leads can request a maximum of 30% of the full economic cost of the grant application (not 30% of the maximum grant size by scheme and not 30% each).

IIASA or Norwegian organisations will be paid at 100% of the justified direct costs through a UK lead or component grant.

Eligible costs:

  • IIASA or Norwegian project co-lead salaries
  • directly incurred (DI) costs (for example, travel and subsistence, consumables)
  • IIASA or Norwegian research assistants

Ineligible costs:

  • estates and other indirect costs
  • capital costs
  • equipment over £10,000 (anything under £10,000 can be requested under DI costs)

Last updated: 12 December 2023

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