Discovery science - NERC


Demand management

NERC implemented new measures in 2015 designed to raise discovery science standard grant success rates.

The objective was to reduce the number and size of applications from research organisations for NERC’s discovery science standard grant scheme and to ensure research excellence, efficiency and value for money for the taxpayer.

As the standard grant scheme has been superseded, demand management measures will be applied to the Pushing the Frontiers scheme only. The measures for pushing the frontiers will be based on the previous approach utilised for standard grants.

The demand management measures are based on historic application and award data and will limit the number of applications an individual research organisation can make, where that organisation fails to meet a 20% success rate quality threshold.

Research organisations that fail to meet the 20% success rate threshold will have the number of applications they can make in each standard grant round restricted, until they meet the threshold. The data will be re-calculated annually using the six most recent grant rounds.

Restrictions will be calculated on a sliding scale; in the most extreme cases institutions will be limited to one application per grant round.

Pushing the frontiers demand management measures 2023

Organisations are reminded that all applications (submitted either as a lead or component) count towards an organisation’s quota, where that organisation is applying as the grant-holding organisation (of the lead or component grant). Organisations should ensure they have a process in place to control all submissions to NERC.

As part of a UKRI harmonised approach to ensure greater transparency in the peer review process, panel recommendations and funding cut-off points are also published on the NERC website and give a more immediate indicator of the performance of individual proposals.

Contact for further information

Andy Adams

Telephone: 01793 442503

Success rate methodology

The calculation for the 20% success rate quality threshold will be based on data from six standard grant rounds only.

The measures only apply to NERC pushing the frontiers scheme.

Where a research organisation submits more applications to any round than allowed under the cap, NERC will office-reject (not send out to peer review) any excess applications. Any lead or component application from another research organisation linked to the rejected application will also be rejected. If any applications are subsequently rejected based on rule adherence or remit, a research organisation cannot submit alternative applications.

All applications (submitted either as a lead or component) count towards an organisation’s quota, where that organisation is applying as the grant-holding organisation (of the lead or component grant). This will be the organisation of the principal investigator of the lead or component grant.

The data used in the calculation will exclude applications that are ‘office rejected’ or ‘withdrawn by research organisation’. Where an application is considered outside the NERC remit and redirected to another research council under the cross council remit agreement it will be ‘withdrawn by the research organisation’ on the NERC system and not count in calculations towards the quota.

The quality threshold will be based on percentage of successful or unsuccessful applications (rather than those scoring seven or above) to avoid future referees and moderating panels adopting ‘grade inflation’ to artificially increase the success rate of individual research organisations.

The sliding scale cap for research organisations with a success rate below 20% will be calculated in the following way:

  1. Take the number of grants awarded over six rounds, calculate the number of proposals that would have to have been submitted to give research organisations a success rate of 20% (number of awarded grants multiplied by five). This is the ‘six round 20% application number’.
  2. Limit the number of allowable submissions to the ‘six round 20% application number’. Apply the cap on a per round basis – that is, divide the six round 20% application number by six.
  3. The ‘six round 20% number’ will be recalculated annually.

Data used to determine the quota

Quota year Closing dates Quota announced Six round data used
2022 to 2023 July 2022, January 2023 April 2022 July 2018, January 2019, July 2019, January 2020, July 2020, January 2021

Frequently asked questions

How can multi-organisational collaborative proposals be submitted?

Multi-organisational collaborative proposals can be submitted on either a single Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system form or multiple Je-S forms.

The two main options are explained below, but a combination of these two can be used.

Option one

One lead grant proposal by organisation X with one Je-S form and one grant reference and no component grants. The lead principal investigators and all co-investigators are named on the same grant proposal. The co-investigators may be from multiple organisations. If successful, the lead organisation X would be responsible for transferring funds to the organisations (Y and Z) of the co-investigators.

Option one outcome

The proposal counts as one application (and award, if successful) for the lead organisation X submitting the grant proposal only.

Option two

There is a lead principal investigator and lead grant proposal to organisation X, with separate component proposals to organisations Y and Z. Each component proposal has a principal investigator, Je-S form, and unique NERC reference number. If successful, a separate grant is awarded to each organisation.

Option two outcome

Each lead and component proposal counts as an application. Each application counts towards the submitting organisations cap, that is it counts as an application towards Organisations X, Y and Z and counts as an award to each, if successful.

I am an eligible co-investigator unable to submit a proposal due to the cap on my organisation. Do I have to be a Project Partner or subcontractor to be involved in a collaborative proposal?

No, as an eligible co-investigator from an eligible organisation, you can be named as the co-investigator on the lead proposal and have your costs requested under the normal full economic costing (FEC) categories. Project Partners are people and organisations not eligible in their own right for NERC funding and predominantly contributing in cash or kind to projects (not requesting funding). Subcontracts should only be used where the organisation is not directly eligible for NERC funding.

Is the quota an annual cap or does it apply to each standard grant call?

The cap is applicable to each standard grant call (two per year). So if you have a cap of five, you can submit up to five proposals (as lead or non-lead) to both the July and January closing date.

How often will the cap be recalculated?

The cap will be recalculated annually (every two rounds).

Is data rounded up or down?

The calculation for the cap is rounded to the nearest whole number, so a calculated cap of 10.3 would be rounded down to 10, whereas a calculated cap of 2.6 would be rounded up to 3.

Does the cap just apply to pushing the frontiers or is it applied to all discovery science schemes?

The measures are only applicable to the pushing the frontiers scheme. Proposals to the exploring the frontiers, urgent grant scheme and large grant scheme do not count as a submission under the cap.

What data is used to inform the success rate and cap?

The success rate data and cap are based on the standard grant scheme (including new investigators) only and the pushing the frontiers calls, including the pilot call, Large grant exploring the frontiers and urgent grant submissions are not included.

We have specifically chosen to only include data that is (and is therefore) directly comparable with the scheme that the demand measure applies to. Other schemes that NERC runs have different parameters and assessment processes.

How does the cap relate to proposals submitted through the NERC-NSF Lead Agency Agreement?

Where a proposal is submitted into the NERC pushing the frontiers closing date then the proposal will count. If the proposal is submitted to the USA’s National Science Foundation (NSF), it will not count towards the organisation’s cap.

Individual principal investigators are restricted to the number of proposals that they may be involved in. This rule has not changed. For NERC any applicant to a research grant call may submit no more than two proposals as an investigator; only one of these may be as the lead principal investigator. Involvement of a UK investigator in a preliminary proposal submission to NSF as the lead agency will count as a submission as non-lead principal investigator or co-investigator to the NERC July pushing the frontiers call in that year.

What happens to grants or principal investigators that transfer between organisations?

The proposal will be included under the data for the initial organisation submitting the proposal. This will generally be indicated by the NERC grant reference ending in ‘/1’.

Why are you using ‘success rates’ rather than a quality metric, such as score at panel, to calculate the caps?

The calculation is based on the percentage of successful or unsuccessful applications, rather than a quality or grade metric. This is to avoid future referees and moderating panels intentionally or unconsciously adopting grade inflation to artificially increase the success rate of individual research organisations.

Why are the research councils not implementing demand management in the same way? Why not apply at an individual researcher level?

It was important for NERC to apply measures at the level most appropriate for our community. NERC Council considered the merits of different approaches; applying measures at an individual, department and the organisational level. NERC demand management measures are being applied at an organisational level because this is where there is the most data available, and because the organisations that we fund have responsibility for managing the applications that are made to NERC.

Will these measures restrict the ability for organisations to retain and recruit staff as individuals are worried that they won’t be able to apply for NERC funding?

The demand management measures are for NERC’s discovery science  pushing the frontiers scheme only.  There are other funding schemes that organisations may apply to. There is also the opportunity for staff to apply as a collaborator on a proposal that has a lead principal investigator based in another research organisation and where the funds are requested on the lead organisations Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system form.

The measures have been introduced on a sliding-scale of cap over a short time period (three years) and calculated on an annual basis which should allow organisations to get above the 20% success rate threshold relatively quickly if institutional demand management measures are put in place.

Last updated: 14 April 2023

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