Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Centres Competition 2020

Research Centres are major ESRC strategic investments. In addition to taking forward an ambitious research agenda and making significant economic and/or societal impact, they add value by increasing research infrastructure, building capacity, encouraging interdisciplinary working in social science and beyond, and enabling research collaboration in the UK and internationally.

RO contributions update – August 2020

Research Centre funding is aimed at experienced research leaders who require longer-term or extended support for research groups, inter-institutional research networks, programmes of research, medium to large surveys, other infrastructure or methodological developments, or any related larger-scale projects. Research Centres also have a distinct role in supporting the development of early career researchers and building new research capacity. They are expected to be high-impact investments over the longer term.

The Centres 2020 competition is open to applications of excellent quality in any area of social science within the ESRC remit. The call also includes a highlight notice in the area of Changing Populations, in particular ‘Connecting Generations’.

The ESRC will be investing up to £45m 100% full economic cost (fEC) over five years through the open element of this Centres Competition, with up to a further £10m 100% fEC for the highlight notice. The competition is for proposals ranging from £2.5 million to £10 million 100% fEC with a term of up to five years. ESRC will meet 80% of the full economic costs on proposals submitted. It is anticipated that ESRC will fund up to five Centres under the open call and a further Centre under the highlight notice. All proposals to this call must be led by a researcher at an eligible UK Research Organisation (RO) and will need to be submitted through the Research Councils’ Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

We anticipate considerable interest in this competition which will be run as a two-stage application process and, as in previous competitions, we have asked ROs to limit the number of applications to support the most competitive bids. We will be looking for evidence of long-term institutional commitment, including additional financial resources from the RO to extend the work programme beyond the 100% fEC funding requested.

Highlight notice

Dedicated funds are available to support a Centre in the area of Changing Populations, in particular ‘Connecting Generations’. It is our expectation that the successful Centre will seek to address aims set out under the Changing Populations priority area of the ESRC 2019 Delivery Plan and specifically fulfil our commitment to a Connecting Generations programme that stimulates excellent research that will inform policy and practice by expanding the evidence base on how changes in our population, society and economy influence the connections and inequalities between generations.

Further details can be found in the Call Specification.


Full guidance on eligibility, closing dates, how to apply to the call and assessment criteria are detailed in the documents listed below. A timetable is also shown below:

  • Call published – April 2020
  • Deadline for submitting outline proposals – October 2020
  • Deadline for submitting full proposals – March 2021
  • Interviews – July 2021
  • Award start date – October 2021

Supporting documents

Additional Guidance

Further information

Enquiries about this call can be sent to

ESRC recognises the pressures that some ROs are currently facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This statement, which applies to the ESRC Centres competition 2020, aims to make the requirements regarding RO contributions clear for the applicant community.

There is no requirement for a minimum financial commitment from an RO in order to apply to the outline stage of the 2020 ESRC Centres competition and RO financial contributions will not form part of the assessment at the outline stage. However, Centres are major strategic investments for the ESRC and an RO’s strategic commitment to the centre over the longer term should be demonstrated as part of the application.

For those Centres shortlisted to apply to the full stage we will expect ROs to demonstrate their long term strategic commitment to the centre through financial or other contributions and we are committed to ensuring that we request these in a way that is sustainable for ROs and ensures a level playing field for assessment. ROs have a degree of flexibility in what forms of support they provide and how these are profiled over the lifetime of the centre. For example, commitments could come on stream later on in the lifetime of the centre or ramp up over time. Further guidance will be provided at the full proposal stage. Assessment of RO contributions will be part of the assessment of the proposals at the full proposal stage and clear guidance will be given to our panel.

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