National capability funding - NERC

NERC national capability lets the UK:

  • deliver world-leading environmental science
  • support national strategic needs
  • respond to emergencies.

It includes the research and development activities which keeps this capability at the cutting edge.

National capability (NC) funding describes the element of NERC-funded activity directly procured by NERC due to a combination of its scale and complexity.

These features result in a need for NC provision with a critical mass of size and budget that makes direct procurement the only practical option.

NC comprises:

  • NC-science, which integrates over at least national and decadal time-scales
  • NC-large-scale research infrastructure
  • smaller-scale NC-services, facilities and data that provide a service to the environmental science research community
  • delivering NC-national and public good activities, which comprise advice to government departments and wider information to the public at large.

Budgets for these four NC categories are determined by council as part of its business planning to deliver NERC’s strategy.

Within these are four criteria:

The funding of NC-science

NERC funding recognises that environmental science benefits from a variety of methods of delivery, and in particular that the investigator-led model characteristic of university research and the directed teams characteristic of research institutes both contribute to the overall excellence of UK environmental science.

In making non-competitive NC-science funding awards to institutes, NERC must be satisfied that the science meets the requirements of NC funding, and is of a nature and complexity that make directed teams the most effective delivery mechanism in organisational terms.

NERC expects recipients of non-competitive NC-science funding to pursue science that:

  • is at least national and decadal in scale
  • makes a substantial contribution in volume and quality to UK environmental science
  • demonstrates benefit to the wider UK community of environmental scientists and users
  • is at least nationally outstanding in purpose and scientific scope
  • advances the culture of diversity, inclusivity and environmental responsibility in UK environmental science.

NERC anticipates that, as a consequence of these capabilities, recipients will also take a leading role in national and international programmes. They will also take a role in the provision of advice to government and the wider public, for which NERC provides separate NC national and public good funding.

NC-large-scale research infrastructure (NC-LRI)

NC-LRI funding provides for specialist, large research infrastructure that enables excellence and impact in national to global-scale environmental science.

A characteristic of large-scale infrastructure is that its effective and financially-viable provision requires a single, critical mass both in operations, and in technical and regulatory compliance. NC-LRI operating costs, capital purchase and maintenance are met by other funding streams.

NERC requires its large-scale research infrastructure to be available to the entire UK research community, and to support research from all NERC funding streams. This infrastructure is a major asset which the UK cannot afford to duplicate, and which allows the UK to engage in world-leading international research programmes and partnerships, and international infrastructure barter programmes.

NC-services, facilities and data (NC-SFD)

NC-SFD funding supports the UK environmental research community by providing specialist services, of which high performance computing, measurement facilities, sample repositories and data centres are examples, whose “centralised” regional or national provision delivers a critical mass in operation, technical innovation and financial efficiency.

NERC expects the provision of data and services to be accessible to the entire UK research community, and to support research from all NERC funding streams. NERC services, facilities and data may be used by industry partners, where appropriate, to generate additional external revenue, and provide a source of capability and expert advice to government and wider society.

NC-national and public good (NC-NPG)

NC-NPG funding supports activities that will strengthen national security, resilience, economic growth and societal benefit through provision of independent scientific and expert advice, or other services required by government and the wider public. Scientific research is therefore not the primary purpose of NPG funding.

Last updated: 27 January 2022

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