Check if you’re eligible for funding - NERC


Eligibility of applicants

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

Principal investigator

The principal investigator on the proposal 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.

NERC staff at band six level and above are eligible to apply as principal investigators. 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 BBSRC research organisations, at band E level or above, are also eligible to apply as a principal investigator.

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 principal investigators or 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 principal investigators 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 proposal submitted.

At the time of application the principal investigator must be either:

  • employed by the research organisation submitting the proposal 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. Proposals should include a confirming statement from the employing research organisation where the grant is to be held.

In addition, the principal investigator must have an assurance from the submitting organisation that, if the proposal 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 proposal.

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 proposal.

Roles not eligible to apply as principal investigators

The following are not eligible to apply as principal investigators:

  • 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 proposal to NERC.

Where the principal or co-investigator 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, as detailed above. Such costs are likely to be a directly incurred cost.


Co-investigators are normally expected to meet the eligibility criteria for a principal investigator and should be able to take over from the principal investigator if required.

New investigator

For calls where applicants can identify themselves as eligible as a new investigator, the applicant must be eligible to apply as a principal investigator, but, in addition, eligibility is restricted to those investigators at the outset of their independent scientific career.

Applicants must therefore be within five years of first becoming eligible for NERC funding as a principal investigator (account will be taken of any career breaks) and must not have received research funding from any source, as a principal investigator, that included post-doctoral research assistant staff support costs.

This scheme is not intended to support those whose independent research career is already established, so those in senior positions may not apply.

Further eligibility criteria may apply for specific calls.

Research co-investigator

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

A researcher co-investigator 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 Principal or one of the Co-Investigators
  • employed at band six (NERC) or band D (BBSRC) or higher if applying from a NERC or BBSRC research organisation.

A researcher co-investigator may not take over from the principal investigator.

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

International co-investigators

An international co-investigator must meet the same criteria as above, 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 IIASA in line with the funding for UK membership of IIASA. An agreement between UKRI and Norway starting in November 2022 applies to NERC opportunities published from that date. An international co-investigator can not take over as principal investigator on a grant.

Further international co-investigator agreements may be introduced.

Individual announcements of opportunity will specify the IIASA and Norway agreement. The international co-investigator agreement does not apply to all UKRI opportunities.

Funding for eligible international co-investigators

IIASA or Norwegian co-investigators 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 co-investigator 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: 16 November 2022

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