Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Artificial intelligence hubs for real data and for scientific and engineering research

Start application

Apply for funding for a research hub in either artificial intelligence (AI) for real data or AI for scientific and engineering research.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for EPSRC funding.

Up to 6 hubs will be created across 2 distinct areas:

  • AI for real data
  • AI for scientific and engineering research

Hubs must involve co-creation between the AI community and problem-holders to advance AI and accelerate AI adoption, through its application to real world data and science problems.

This investment forms part of EPSRC’s strategic delivery plan.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £12,000,000. EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Standard Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) eligibility rules apply.

Research grants are open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • public sector research establishments
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) approved independent research organisations and NHS bodies with research capacity

You can apply if you are resident in the UK and meet at least 1 of the following:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at lecturer level or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (considered on a case-by-case basis)

AI for real data programme

Through this programme we seek to support collaborative research programmes that develop new and holistic approaches to tackle working with, and learning from, complex data and datasets.

Proposals must be multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder but need not necessarily advance the state of the art in all areas.

We would like to welcome and encourage researchers from all disciplines that are supported by UKRI to apply, including but not limited to:

  • statistics and applied probability
  • computer science
  • data science and data engineering
  • digital humanities
  • ethics
  • operational research
  • applied mathematics
  • research software engineers
  • innovation studies
  • urban and environmental studies
  • communication studies

Substantial involvement of end-users such that they co-create the research programme from the beginning is essential to enable the programme to be grounded in a real-world context, and to promote knowledge transfer and expertise.

This is an AI technology development and application programme and as such the majority of the work undertaken should fall within EPSRC’s remit. The end-use demonstrated in the proposal does not necessarily need to be within EPSRC remit, however, the underlying science and research should be, and the results should be generalisable to some degree.

AI for scientific and engineering research programme

Through this programme we seek to support collaborative research programmes that enable the development and adoption of new AI capabilities across research domains, driving leadership in focused discipline areas, and, when appropriate, facilitating knowledge exchange of applied AI across disciplinary boundaries. In particular we are looking to fund hubs which will sue the power of AI to transform research across the physical sciences and engineering.

Proposals are expected to be multidisciplinary but need not necessarily advance the state of the art in all areas.

Applications which involve large experimental science facilities must demonstrate that they are enabling the development of AI research within universities through their planned programme in order to be eligible to be part of applications.

We would like to welcome and encourage researchers from all science and engineering disciplines that are supported by EPSRC to apply, including but not limited to:

  • data science
  • data engineering
  • computer science
  • research software engineers
  • physical sciences (chemistry, physics, materials sciences)
  • engineering (including manufacturing)

Who cannot apply

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an EPSRC grant.

We are expecting a high volume of applications to this funding opportunity and we will fund only the highest quality applications.

We encourage applicants to focus their efforts on applications that most closely mirror the needs of the opportunity and the strengths of the proposed team. While there are no restrictions to the number of outline proposals an individual may be named on, we would expect any applicant to be able to honour the time commitments made should their applications be successful.

It is anticipated that those applications which are invited to submit a full proposal may expand their leadership group or collaborators, including to those who may have been named on or involved in an unsuccessful outline application.

The outline stage of this opportunity is open to any applicants that meet the above criteria.

The full proposal stage of this opportunity is only open to invited applicants who were successful at the outline stage.

Resubmissions EPSRC has a no resubmission policy. Full proposals submitted to this funding opportunity which are unsuccessful will be classed as a first submission under the EPSRC resubmissions policy.

You would not be able to submit the proposal to other EPSRC schemes.

Similarly, full proposals previously submitted to other EPSRC schemes will be counted as a resubmission and office rejected.

Submissions to the outline stage of this funding opportunity will not count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy. Unsuccessful full proposals will count towards this policy.

What we're looking for

AI hubs

The hubs that are funded through this opportunity will be critical mass investments that are expected to form connections to the wider AI community and research and innovation ecosystem. They will have a core mission and sets of activities and objectives in either AI for real data or AI for scientific and engineering research.

While it is expected that the initial submission will contain a core leadership team, collaborative founder stakeholders and plans for initial work programmes, it is also expected that these will:

  • evolve and expand over time
  • flexibly allocate resource and effort to emergent problems
  • collaborate with other hubs, investments and groups that are working on similar problems
  • bring in additional partners and interested parties

Funded hubs under this programme will be expected to address the following.

World-class fundamental research in AI

Deliver world class fundamental research in AI, that is co-created with stakeholders from other disciplines, backgrounds and regions against real-world research problems. They will build capability and capacity around working with, and learning from, complex data and datasets, delivering a wide range of outputs and impact for the UK society and economy.

Within AI for real data, it will be expected that this will lead to application of AI on real-world use cases within the lifetime of the hub. In AI for scientific and engineering research, work will focus on accelerating the adoption of new AI capabilities across research domains, driving leadership in focused discipline areas, and facilitating the knowledge exchange of applied AI across disciplinary boundaries.

Engage with key stakeholders

Engage and include key stakeholders, including:

  • the UK wide national and international research community (in both AI and across the application areas of the hub)
  • policy makers
  • government departments and bodies
  • industry and businesses of all sizes
  • non-governmental organisations
  • third-sector
  • funders of research
  • users of the research to establish a UK focal point for activity around their strategic area

Over the lifetime of the hub, it is also expected that it will form new cross-disciplinary partnerships across the engineering, physical, and computational sciences or across the AI community and with owners of real-world data.

Inclusivity

Be inclusive. Each hub will co-ordinate and collaborate across their relevant UK research communities and should be responsive to the wider stakeholder and investment landscape, maximising the value of this investment through alignment to other strategic activities, either existing or new. Particular consideration should be given to the inclusion of, and connectivity to, local and regional stakeholders.

Working with other funded activities

Work with the other funded activities (including other hubs funded through this call) as a cohort to further data science and AI research, innovation, and application, collaborate to influence policy and act as a focal point and ambassador for the community.

Healthy, diverse and inclusive AI talent and skills pipeline

Support the development of a healthy, diverse, and inclusive AI talent and skills pipeline. Consideration should be given to the advancement and training of those engaged in the hub from every career stage and towards how any skills programme can be offered more broadly to enhance digital skills in the broader community. This could include the provision of skills training, supporting research software engineers, and setting expectations around data and software management.

Structure of AI hubs

A typical hub will comprise of (but is not limited to):

  • a virtual or physical centre which is multi-institutional but based around a lead research organisation
  • a hub director (academic) with a proven track record of managing large investments and excellence within their discipline or sector
  • a wider leadership team, representative across the different disciplines involved in the hub, from varying career stages with a track record of excellence within their disciplines. It is expected that this team will be diverse against protected characteristics
  • a small co-ordinating management body (which includes a full-time hub manager and a full-time business engagement manager) and an administrative team that will ensure that the programme runs efficiently
  • a named lead from one of the host institutions (academic or otherwise) for knowledge transfer and for external communications, whose role will include coordinating knowledge exchange between the hub and the wider landscape
  • postdoctoral research assistants (PDRAs) distributed across the project. Funding cannot be requested from these grants for PhD studentships or related funding. However, students funded from other sources can be incorporated into the broader project plan, provided that PhD students’ work is not part of the critical path of the hub’s research
  • appropriate advisory and governance structures, including as a minimum, an independent advisory board which should meet at least annually and include key academic, industrial, relevant policy officials and other stakeholders. It is expected that a UKRI representative will sit on this advisory board, who will be appointed by UKRI. Provision of the precise and full membership of such a board will not be required at point of application

It is expected that management of hubs will require more investigator time (whether for the principal investigator or distributed across the team) than standard UKRI grants.

Principal investigators will be expected to participate in broader UK AI ecosystem discussions with UKRI and other governmental stakeholders and participate in events.

The expectation of a dedicated project manager reflects the need for coordination across the hub and with the AI ecosystem, enabling the required interdisciplinary, end-user focused approach and the facilitation of engagement with users of the research.

As part of the management process, hubs will be expected to set an appropriate statement of objectives and internal key performance indicators (KPIs) focused on key outputs and outcomes within 6 months of the hub grant starting. KPIs should be appropriately set against baselines, to be considered at the start of the hub.

Applicants are expected to have a clear plan for supporting diversity, in a broad sense (for example, protected characteristics and career background). It is anticipated that proposals will evidence a strong commitment to supporting the development of researchers (including early career researchers) across the hub and its activities. Activities focused on early career researchers and wider capacity building including for stakeholders will be welcome.

While hubs should propose an initial research programme which will begin to tackle the challenges of the hub itself, it is envisaged that the hub will be able to reallocate funds across existing and new partners to pursue new lines of research or alter research plans to meet emergent demands, linked to their missions and objectives. In addition, hubs can apply for a flexible fund (up to £1 million) which can be used for:

  • impact activities including engagement with small and medium enterprises
  • engagement and collaboration outreach across key disciplines and sectors, with policy officials, and to the public and internationally if appropriate. This may include incorporating new partners into the hub or working to embed the hub within its local regional strengths
  • the translation of research outputs and tools to relevant end-uses
  • retaining flexibility within the overall programme of work to allow for the Hub to respond to emerging priorities and opportunities

Stakeholder collaboration

Due to the scale of these awards, significant collaboration and leverage (cash or in-kind) will be expected from project partners (for example, business, public sector, third sector). This may include models such as endowing chairs, supplementing academic salaries or hosting academics within facilities. It is expected that the leadership team of the hub should contain a demonstrable track record of engagement of this type.

We expect collaborations to build a mutually beneficial 2-way relationship based on:

  • expertise
  • secondments in both directions
  • products
  • infrastructures

To ensure the awards are inclusive of a variety of approaches and research fields, no specific leverage expectations are being set for eligibility to this programme. The appropriateness and strength of collaborations and plans for each hub to form additional partnerships will be a factor in peer review of proposals.

Clear plans for engaging with new and expanding with existing collaborators over the duration of the hub should be detailed. Applicants are asked to include a user engagement strategy in your outline application which may be extended if you are invited to submit a full proposal. You will have the opportunity to include project partner letters of support at stage two (invited full proposals).

In recognition of the diverse nature of the research and innovation landscape for AI across the UK, and the national role that the awards will play in the EPSRC portfolio, we expect bidders to demonstrate how they will engage and collaborate with stakeholders across all parts of the UK and play into regional, as well as national, innovation and growth strategies.

Applicants should apply for the resources they need to enable strong connectivity with all parts of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales).

Funding streams

This investment will invest in 2 sets of hubs. It is anticipated that once invited to full proposal, or during the lifetime of the hub, collaborations may be expanded for the core team, potentially including investigators from unsuccessful bids to this opportunity.

These 2 streams will be assessed separately but funding decisions will be taken across the whole portfolio at the point of funding to ensure a balanced portfolio which delivers an investment which can deliver across the outputs desired and outlined in this document.

AI for real data programme areas

The programme is designed to provide the underpinning research that is needed for the development of next generation AI technologies that have the capabilities to meet the demands of real-world applications.

To enable this, EPSRC requires proposals to place an emphasis on key areas of focus which are designed to address specific challenges in an aspect of AI hubs should contain research programmes to address these and include plans for how these will be applied to real world data and problems from collaborators by the end of the investment.

Applicants are asked to clearly highlight their chosen area from the following within their proposal:

  • uncertainty quantification
  • real-time and dynamic data
  • complex data (federated, heterogeneous, noisy, sparse, and multimodal data)
  • hybrid AI

To ensure a breadth of research and innovation capability is developed in the UK it is anticipated that successful hubs will be selected such that most or all of the above areas will be funded (and in accordance with the guidance of peer review).

While 4 areas of focus have been specified, it is for applicants to determine the broader areas that the hub will focus on in order to address the above challenges. Focus should remain on working with real world data, but areas may include (for illustrative purposes only):

  • low quality data
  • missing data
  • noisy data
  • real-time data
  • small data
  • sparse data
  • unstructured data

As part of this investment, the hubs will collaborate across the wider AI for real data programme and should be designed and delivered in partnership with relevant end-users, including industry or government (national and, where appropriate, regional, or local).

Successful hubs will be required to develop and execute a strategy for engaging with the wider programme, potential end-users, and stakeholders. Hubs should detail how they plan to develop techniques and demonstrators which are applied to real world use cases or data, with partners, within the lifetime of the hub.

AI for scientific and engineering research programme areas

This investment seeks to support the realisation of the objectives above through the creation of highly collaborative and interdisciplinary hubs that will seek to use AI to do science and engineering differently, enabling for new discoveries and the creation of new scientific knowledge and understanding.

Whilst AI is a powerful tool for analysing complex data sets and automating traditional science, it also has the potential to enable us to do science differently in the future, to enable new discoveries and the creation of new scientific knowledge and understanding, potentially solving a range of hitherto intractable problems.

Across scientific disciplines, AI will play a key role in intelligent use of data, including integrating data collected from different sources under different conditions or at different scales, searching for rare and unusual events, and determining which data to keep and which to discard.

The activity proposed here will invest in new interdisciplinary approaches which will bring the power of AI to bear on world leading research.

To support this, each AI for scientific and engineering research hub will consist of a consortium of academic and industry organisations and will be expected to work collaboratively with a range of stakeholders across the UK’s research and innovation landscape.

Co-creation between the AI community and a science or engineering discipline is essential and should be evidenced in the work packages, leadership team and governance of the hub.

Funding is available to support a number of hubs which combine novel AI development with its application in new methodologies within an aspect of EPSRC remit science or engineering.

To ensure a breadth of research and innovation capability is developed in the UK it is anticipated that successful hubs will be selected such that a range of scientific or engineering areas will be represented in the final portfolio.

Applicants are asked to indicate in their application how they address both development of novel AI and contribute to an area of EPSRC funded science or engineering. The following are example areas, provided just for illustration purposes, for which applications will be accepted:

AI for chemistry

Using AI as a tool to explore chemical space to facilitate new insights into the behaviour of molecules, systems, and chemical reactions.

Applications for a hub in this area must focus on accelerated discovery and the creation of best-in-class reactions with greater atomistic efficiency and a renewed ability to explore new chemical space for form and function is expected.

It is expected that new methods represent a step change in the approach to design, testing and integrated feedback loops, leading to faster transitions from theory, design, synthesis, and validation.

AI for engineering

Utilising advanced AI to enable a step change in an aspect or type of engineering, for example manufacturing for a circular economy or AI as applied to systems engineering or urban systems research.

Applications for this hub should focus on AI tools that provide actionable insight and take a whole systems approach by focusing on how novel tools can be utilised at-scale and across the value chain. Applications should consider how different parts of the system influence each other and embedding consideration of the risks, costs and trade-offs associated with different materials, technologies and approaches.

Particularly, circularity and sustainability of engineering approaches should be considered, (for example manufacturing for the circular economy) delivering digitally enabled, prosperous and resilient UK sectors with circularity at their core.

AI for materials science

A focus on AI tools for accelerating discovery of novel materials and properties, including their design, characterisation, and potential manufacturing. The hub should address the differing challenges of using AI with a selection of materials and property types, as well as across a range of length scales, to deliver a step change in UK research into materials that will enable sustainable economic and environmental futures whilst being sustainable throughout their lifecycle.

AI for physics

AI to better our understanding of quantum phenomena, condensed matter physics, or physical science approaches within biophysics. AI which can be applied to expand understanding of interatomic potential and field, electronic or superconducting properties, or which can be combined to accelerate the development of quantum technologies from the base scientific discipline.

Applications across any science or engineering area should consider the implications of overlaps and synergies with other areas funded under this funding opportunity, as well as underpinning concepts of responsible innovation, intellectual property, and national security. Applicants will also be expected to outline how their chosen area will contribute to the realisation of the science and engineering challenges outlines in the EPSRC delivery plan.

As part of this investment, the hubs will collaborate across the wider AI for scientific and engineering research programme and their wider relevant ecosystems. They should be designed such that they consider the overlaps and synergies with the other programme areas.

Proposals should highlight why their suggested hub is nationally important, and how their interdisciplinary approach will enable adoption of new AI capabilities across research domains, drive leadership in focused disciplines areas, and facilitate knowledge exchange of applied AI across disciplinary boundaries to enable a step change in scientific discovery and research methods.

Involvement of The Alan Turing Institute with the AI hubs

As the UK’s national centre for data science and AI, The Alan Turing Institute is well-positioned to work with successful projects from this programme. The exact nature of the institute’s interaction with successful projects will be dependent on the details of each project. The Turing will not be offering specific support (this includes offering letters of support) to individual applications.

It is expected that all hubs will either have, or will develop, links with the Turing as part of facilitating the flow of ideas and methods across the AI ecosystem, but these will not be mandated. Previous engagement is not required at the point of application, nor will it be considered as part of the peer review process.

Funding available

The total EPSRC funding available for this opportunity will be up to £60 million to fund up to 6 hubs.

The total fund for this opportunity is £75 million, EPSRC will fund £60 million of the total (80% full economic cost).

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £12 million. EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Up to £1 million is available for pump-priming.

Due to the nature of the programme, there will be additional requirements on reporting, monitoring and evaluation, and grant extensions. This will be reflected in the grant additional conditions, and those funded will need to comply with them.

Costs

Resources may be used for research expenses including:

  • UKRI funded research facilities. Please note that if you plan to use a major facility in your research, such as those funded centrally by EPSRC or a European facility, contact the facility before applying to EPSRC to check if your proposed research is feasible, and obtain a technical assessment if the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system marks it as required
  • travel
  • research technical support including research software engineers, data scientists, postdoctoral research assistants (PDRA) and fellow salaries
  • training
  • other standard expenses

Resources may also be used for activities that initiate, grow, and maintain collaborations with stakeholders (for example academia, business, government, third sector) such as:

  • secondments
  • staff exchanges
  • regular travel

Although this is not an opportunity designed for significant capital expenditure, equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) and up to £400,000 is available through this opportunity. All equipment should be fully justified and essential to the mission of the hub.

Applicants should look to use local compute capacity and national facilities where possible. In circumstances where this is not possible, and there is a specific need, compute may be requested.

Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘directly incurred – other costs’ heading.

Duration

Funding is available for 60 months, and projects must begin on 1 February 2024.

Responsible innovation and trusted research

EPSRC is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation and trusted research.

Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to:

  • promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor
  • encourage our research community to do likewise

The hubs will be required to embed principles of responsible innovation and those of trusted research throughout their activities and will be expected to engage with the relevant regulatory bodies where concerns may arise under the National Security and Investment Act. Aspects of bias, privacy, security and ethics should be considered where appropriate.

Sustainability

UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy lays out our ambition to actively lead environmental sustainability across our sectors. This includes a vision to ensure that all major investment and funding decisions we make are directly informed by environmental sustainability, recognising environmental benefits as well as potential for environmental harm.

In alignment with this, UKRI is tackling the challenge of environmental sustainability through our building a green future strategic theme, which aims to develop whole systems solutions to improve the health of our environment and deliver net zero, securing prosperity across the whole of the UK.

Environmental sustainability is a broad term but may include consideration of such broad areas as:

  • reducing carbon emissions
  • protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
  • waste or pollution elimination
  • resource efficiency and a circular economy

EPSRC expects hubs to embed careful consideration of environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process and throughout the lifetime of the hub.

Hubs should ensure that environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed research approaches and hub operations, as well as the associated project outputs, methodologies developed across science and engineering and outcomes is considered.

Hubs must also seek opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners.

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

As leaders in the community, the hubs will be expected to embed EDI in all their activities throughout the lifetime of the investment.

If funded, this will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers in their own environment and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to EPSRC’s published expectations for EDI.

Hubs must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively. This must include at least one costed staff post with responsibility for EDI (the hub EDI Lead). Hubs should include information on EDI resources (including the mandatory costed staff post for the EDI Lead and any other resources, for example mentoring schemes, training, workshops, and data exercises) in the justification of resources document.

EPSRC does not specify any particular full-time equivalent, salary level or career stage for the EDI lead post. Hubs may decide what is most appropriate for their programme, whilst giving due consideration to flexible working.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the Je-S handbook.

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Please note that the full proposal stage may run on The Funding Service.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

Please ensure that you are applying to the correct opportunity. Applicants are permitted to apply for either the AI for real data programme or the AI for scientific and engineering research programme, you will not be permitted to apply to both.

AI for real data programme: outline

When applying to:

  • Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  • Select ‘call search’.
  • To find the opportunity, search for: Artificial Intelligence for Real Data – Outline

This will populate:

  • council: EPSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard research
  • call/type/mode: Artificial Intelligence for Real Data – Outline

AI for scientific and engineering research: outline

When applying:

  • Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  • Select ‘call search’.
  • To find the opportunity, search for: Artificial Intelligence for Science – Outline

This will populate:

  • council: EPSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard research
  • call/type/mode: Artificial Intelligence for Science – Outline

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

After completing the application, you must click ‘Submit document’, which will send your application to your host organisation’s administration.

Full proposals

If successful at the outline stage, you will be invited to submit a full application. We will send you guidance on completing a full application at this next stage.

The invited full proposal stage of this opportunity is likely to run on The Funding Service, our new funding platform, rather than through Je-S.

The Funding Service has a digital form-based format. This means that the exact application requirements and assessment criteria may alter from what is currently published. Further information will be published in the full proposal funding opportunity.

Deadline

EPSRC must receive your outline application by 4:00pm on 9 February 2023.

If your outline proposal is successful, and you are invited to submit a full proposal, this application must be received by 4:00pm on 8 June 2023.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Attachments

Your application must also include the following attachments.

Outline proposal

Case for support

Up to a maximum of 2 sides of A4, which includes:

  • the hub’s vision (which includes how the hub will drive forward cross-disciplinary fundamental research in one of the identified priority areas)
  • details relating to the organisations that are involved with the hub’s consortium (including detail around geographical reach)
  • track record highlighting the skills, expertise, and experience of the applicant team as relevant to the programme. You may consider non-academic partners or collaborators as part of the team
  • a summary which outlines and includes specific use case examples that demonstrate how the hub will drive forward AI research and innovation in the context of real-world problems or specific areas of science and engineering, plans for collaboration and engagement with end-users, industry, and project partners throughout the lifetime of the hub
User engagement strategy

A user engagement strategy is only required for applications to the AI for real data programme.

Up to 1 side of A4 which includes:

  • plans for collaboration and engagement with end-users, industry, and project partners throughout the lifetime of the hub
  • what steps will be taken to ensure that outputs of the research are available to potential users
Project partner letter or letters of support

Project partner letters of support will not be accepted at the outline stage. You will have the opportunity to include project partner letters of support (unlimited) at stage 2 (invited full proposals).

Proposal cover letter

Up to 2 sides of A4.

This letter will only be seen internally by UKRI and should clearly highlight which of the 4 focus areas the hub relates to. The cover letter should also include keywords associated with the proposed work. Applicants can also express any other information they feel is relevant to their application.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

A 3-stage assessment process will be used.

Stage 1: outline proposals

Outline proposals will be considered by a mixed panel consisting of internal Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) staff and key external strategic advisors.

This panel will be assessing:

  • fit to call
  • applicants and partnerships
  • novelty of the proposed research

It is expected that the outline proposal will only include the core leadership team, this should be expanded upon should the applicants be invited to submit a full proposal. The core leadership team should consist of the hub director and up to 5 co-investigators.

At this outline stage, the panels and EPSRC may take into account the portfolio, geographic and subject matter diversity of applications received when deciding which applicants to invite to submit full proposals.

Applicants that are successful at this stage will be invited to submit a full proposal. In the event of this funding opportunity being substantially oversubscribed as to be unmanageable, EPSRC reserves the right to modify the assessment process.

Feedback will not be provided at stage one unless specifically requested by the outline panel.

EPSRC has kept the required documents at a minimum for this stage.

If your proposal is successful at the outline stage, and you are invited to submit a full proposal, there will be scope to include new collaborators and you will be able to add further detail to your proposal. Please note that the vision for the hub and the core leadership will not be allowed to change between the outline and full proposal stages.

To enable the above, EPSRC will not be limiting the change in proposal costs to 10% difference between outline and full proposal to allow additional collaborators to be brought in. However, applicants are asked to ensure that the funds which are requested do not exceed £8,000,000 (at 80% full economic cost).

Upon completion of the outline stage, titles of applications that are invited to full proposal will be published online along with a brief description of proposed work and details of applicants, including the team named. We encourage the addition of further collaborators and project partners between outline and full proposal stage and may host networking events to facilitate additional partnerships.

Stage 2: invited full proposals

The applicants that are successful at the previous stage will be invited to submit a full proposal. Full proposals will be sent out for postal peer review. Prior to this, applicants will be given the opportunity to include additional project partner letters of support.

Postal peer review will consider all assessment criteria. Where the majority of reviews are unsupportive, the proposal will be ‘review rejected’ at the review stage. The applicant will no longer qualify for the right to reply.

If your application has received enough support from reviewers, it will go forward to the interview panel. Prior to the interview panel, usable reviewer comments that were included in the decision process will be sent to you. This gives you the opportunity to correct factual inaccuracies and respond to any queries raised by the reviewers in a principal investigator response document.

Feedback at stage 2 will be provided in the form of reviewer comments.

Stage 3: interview panel

Proposals with sufficiently supportive postal peer review will be invited to interview to select the final successful applicants.

The principal investigator and up to two others identified on the proposal will be invited to attend the interview, and it is expected that at least one of the attendees will be from a collaborating institution.

All criteria will be assessed in determining the recommendations of the panel, taking into consideration the peer review comments, principal investigator’s response and interview.

Full details of the interview process will be sent to candidates before the interviews.

It is anticipated that the panel will take a whole portfolio approach to funding to ensure complementarity between investments and funded hubs, with a specific focus on the fit to call criteria at this final stage.

Assessment criteria

Core criteria (applicable across both programmes)

Whilst the criteria headings mirror EPSRC’s standard criteria, additional aspects have been added to all criteria and the applicant and partnerships criterion has been made a primary criterion.

Quality (primary)

This applies to the full proposal and interview stages.

We will assess research excellence, referring to:

  • the hub’s vision, including the ambition and adventure of the proposed programme and the potential for its outcomes to have a transformative effect on the research and innovation landscape of artificial intelligence (AI)
  • the degree of novelty in the research programme to advance to the field of AI, the relationship to the broader context of the current AI research area internationally and timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
  • the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impacts across sectors and timescales
  • the plans to embed the principles of responsible innovation and trusted research throughout the activities
National importance (secondary major)

This applies to the full proposal and interview stages.

We will assess how the research programme:

  • meets national needs by establishing a unique world-leading activity in AI
  • contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry or industries
  • evidence that world-class research will be undertaken and that it will contribute to the development of world-leading UK research capabilities
Applicant and partnerships (primary)

This is considered at all assessment stages.

We will assess the ability to deliver the proposed hub, referring to:

  • track record of the director, including excellence within their disciplines and their ability to manage large interdisciplinary investments for real-world applications
  • appropriateness and balance of skills and expertise within the applicant team for the delivery of the proposed programme of activities
  • relevance, appropriateness, and balance of the academic and industrial organisations that are involved in the hub’s consortium (including geographic distribution of involved stakeholders)
Resources and management (secondary)

This applies to the full proposal and interview stages.

We will assess the:

  • appropriateness of the resources requested to deliver the proposed programme of work, including those to support collaboration with the wider programme
  • effective integration of different disciplines, sectors, and expertise as appropriate to tackle the research challenges posed by this investment
  • appropriateness of the plans for managing and using the pump-priming funds

Funding opportunity-specific criteria

Fit to call (primary)

This is considered at all assessment stages and includes:

  • potential to drive forward cross-disciplinary fundamental research in 1 of the 4 priority areas
  • evidence that the proposed hub will drive forward AI research and innovation in the context of real-world problems or specific areas of science.
  • extent to which the hub will develop leadership capabilities for the UK in AI that works differently with data and datasets or enables for science to be done differently
  • extent to which the hub has considered and embedded environmental sustainability throughout all stages of the research lifecycle and throughout the hub’s lifetime
  • appropriateness of plans for engaging with stakeholders, users of the research, and the other successful hubs that are funded through this programme
  • fit with the national AI ecosystem including delivery of regional innovation and growth strategies and complementarity to existing investments

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

AI and Robotics team

For general enquiries

Email: ai.robotics@epsrc.ukri.org

Include ‘AI for Real Data’ or ‘AI for scientific and engineering research’ in the subject line.

Rhian Jacob-Barclay, Portfolio Manager in the AI and Robotics team

For specific enquiries

Email: rhian.jacobbarclay@epsrc.ukri.org

Include ‘AI for Real Data’ or ‘AI for scientific and engineering research’ in the subject line.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Background

AI will transform the UK over the next 20 years. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has an opportunity to ensure that this transformation brings the maximum benefits to the UK economy and society, and that it results in new technologies that we can all trust and rely on.

UKRI published our statement of opportunities on AI, where we set out our vision for AI and our aspiration to play a key role in realising the vast potential benefits of AI, following our extensive review exercise.

Our vision is for advances in artificial intelligence in the UK to benefit society, provide skilled employment and deliver significant economic growth. Our vision is founded on:

  • building ambitious new UK AI capability
  • growing the UK AI research and innovation capacity in a sustainable way
  • achieving positive economic, societal, and environmental impact through growth of the sector and wider adoption of AI that works for everyone
  • enabling adventure and creativity in AI research and innovation
  • increasing the connections across the UK’s AI research and innovation communities

Over the next year, UKRI will be releasing funding opportunities that build towards its AI programme. These will contribute towards delivering against the statement of opportunities on AI and the national AI strategy.

AI, digitalisation, and data

Future success of economies and societies will be driven by new and improved industries and services through transformational technologies that connect people, things and data together in a safe, smart, secure, trustworthy and productive ways. We will generate scientific and technical advances to enable this connectivity and ensure the benefits of digital technologies can be realised for the UK economy and society. This priority underpins the UKRI strategic theme: building a secure and resilient world.

Ambitions

Our ambitions are to:

  • bring communities together to solve key challenges in AI and digital twins that enable the UK to lead in its development and deliver on the promise of transformation across the economy and society
  • encourage adventure in research: pushing out the boundaries and exploring the edge of the possible, keeping our position as a thought leader developing transformative new technologies
  • realise the transformational impact of digital technologies across industry sectors, society, and the public sector: developing technologies of the future in real world situations that are trusted, reduce negative unintended impacts and realise their potential benefits for society as well as the economy
  • develop technologies that can fully embrace privacy, security, fairness, reliability, safety, transparency and accountability and inclusiveness, addressing the trade-offs that currently exist between them
  • build a more secure and resilient digital society from the component through to the system level and address key challenges in the application of digital technologies in defence and security
  • bring academics and users (industry, government and other key stakeholders) closer together in AI, digital twins and broader digital technology research and training to co-create research, increase translation of research into practice, build flexible and stimulating career pathways

Grant additional conditions

Grants will be subject to the standard UKRI grant conditions however the following additional grant conditions will be added to this funding opportunity.

GAC 1: start date of the grant

Notwithstanding RGC 5.2 Starting Procedures, this grant must start by 1 February 2024. No slippage of start date beyond 1 February 2024 will be permitted. Expenditure may be incurred prior to the start of the grant and be subsequently charged to the grant, provided that it does not precede the date of the offer letter.

GAC 2: grant extensions

No slippage or grant extensions (beyond exceptional circumstances in line with the Equality Act 2010) will be allowed. EPSRC will not be responsible for any cost overrun incurred during the course of this grant. The research organisation or organisations will be required to make up any shortfall from alternative sources.

GAC 3: equality, diversity and inclusion

In addition to RGC 3.4, the grant holder is expected to prepare a full equality diversity and inclusion plan for the duration of this grant to demonstrate best practice in equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the lifetime of this funding award. This must be received by the project officer within 3 months of the grant start date

GAC 4: naming and branding

In addition to RGC 12.4 Publication and Acknowledgement of Support, the grant holder must make reference to the UKRI AI programme and UKRI funding and include the UKRI logo and relevant branding on all online or printed materials (including press releases, posters, exhibition materials and other publications) related to activities funded by this grant. References to the strategic priorities fund must be included.

GAC 5: collaboration and collaboration agreements

This grant is awarded on the condition that it will remain aligned to the wider mathematical and computational foundations of AI programme.

A formal collaboration agreement must be in place with the basis of collaboration between any organisations involved in the grant, that takes into account the provision of flexible funds. This agreement should include the following:

  • the allocation of resources throughout the project
  • ownership of intellectual property
  • rights to exploitation

It is the responsibility of the relevant organisations to put such an agreement in place before the research begins. The terms of collaboration agreements must not conflict with the UKRI terms and conditions. Arrangements for collaboration or exploitation must not prevent the future progression of research and the dissemination of research results in accordance with academic custom and practice.

The EPSRC contact must be informed within 3 months of the start of the grant, that the collaboration agreement is in place and has been signed by all partners or the progress made (unless some alternative timeline has been agreed with EPSRC beforehand). If sufficient progress has not been made within 3 months of the start of the grant, EPSRC reserves the right to enact RGC 23.

GAC 6: governance

EPSRC will nominate a member of UKRI staff (the project officer) who will be the grant holder’s primary point of contact. The project officer will ensure that the project is being run in accordance with the terms and conditions and in line with financial due diligence. As funding administrators, all UKRI staff have agreed to maintain the confidentiality required by all parties involved in EPSRC funded research.

GAC 7: monitoring and reporting

In addition to the requirements set out in the standard UKRI grant condition RGC 7.4.3, the grant holder is responsible for providing progress reports and monitoring data (financial and non-financial) when requested by UKRI. UKRI expects that the frequency of financial returns will be bi-annual but reserves the right to request returns more or less often as appropriate to respond to changes in business needs. A template and guidance to complete this will be provided by UKRI in due course.

As part of the management process, hubs will be expected to produce an annual report detailing progress against their stated aims and objectives and should highlight any key impacts or success stories.

EPSRC reserves the right to suspend the grant and withhold further payments if the performance metrics requested are not provided by the stated deadlines or are determined to be of an unacceptable standard by the EPSRC.

GAC 8: expenditure

At the start of the grant the financial spend profile will be agreed by UKRI. In addition to any reporting requirements set out in GAC 8, the grant holder must immediately notify the UKRI project officer in writing of any accumulation, slippage or variation in expenditure greater than 5% of the annual profiled funding. Any such changes must be approved in writing by UKRI, approval should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants.

We reserve the right to re-profile the grant if required. Any deviation from the agreed allocation of funding and profiled costs must be negotiated and approved through written consent by UKRI. The approval of profile changes should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants. At the end of the grant period a breakdown of the expenditure should be submitted along with the final expenditure statement.

GAC 9: embedding trusted research

The hub is expected to embed trusted research and innovation throughout their activities. EPSRC reserves the right to suspend the grant and withhold further payments if rusted research is not embedded throughout the programme or is deemed to be of an unacceptable standard by the EPSRC.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment form (DOCX, 62KB)

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