Education represents a key area of public policy, impacting current and future society, from a local to a global level. While ESRC has used a range of funding mechanisms to fund national and international educational research that spans different sectors and thematic areas, it has been more than twenty years since there was a dedicated ESRC UK-focused research programme in education.
ESRC established a strategic priority for education around improving outcomes in its 2019 delivery plan (PDF, 7.6MB).
The funding is intended to support a programme of original research in order to build new, interdisciplinary research capacity focused on two interrelated themes:
- teaching and learning, focusing on teachers, their training, supply and retention
- the technology for teaching and learning, focusing on how students, teachers and carers can improve learning with technology and how teachers’ professional development can support it.
To ensure the success of the research programme, ESRC is first seeking to appoint a research director. The research director will provide leadership and strategic direction regarding the development and commissioning, coordination, and potential impact of the research programme.
This is an area in which ESRC is looking to build capacity and the research director will be a key part of connecting ESRC to the education research community, building lasting networks and identifying and promoting key strategic aims for future education research aligned to policy priorities and practice needs within the sector, in order to help shape ESRC’s education portfolio.
The research director opportunity will be a five-year (60 months) award starting ahead of the research programme and ending afterwards. This is to ensure that the research director will:
- work closely with the ESRC office, during the initial months of the award, to scope and develop a commissioning opportunity for a three to four years’ research programme of awards totalling up to £6.5 million (fEC); the opportunity for these grants will be announced early in 2022
- provide leadership, coordination and add value across the range of the research programme with a view to enhance the programme’s scientific, policy, practice, and societal contributions. This should include:
- strategic oversight of the programme to ensure overall coherence and intellectual leadership
- identify and lead on engaging with potential research users to ensure that research, where needed, is co-produced with and meets the needs of practitioners, policy makers, and other stakeholders
- build enduring connections between the research programme, policy and practice through established links with key stakeholders and user communities
- undertake synthesis, reviews and any other such activities that will add value to the research programme
- act as a ‘thought leader’ beyond the portfolio of investments commissioned through the education priority. This should include:
- act as a key contact point with the authority to speak on the programme’s research and engagement to ESRC senior leadership, key stakeholders, user communities and the media
- represent education research issues, to both internal and external audiences
- collaborate with ESRC and UKRI to ensure the future sustainability and growth of the programme’s impact activity via the establishment of co-funding partnerships and other such opportunities within and outside the UKRI environment.
The successful applicant must demonstrate:
- relevant experience in shaping and successfully leading a research programme or related research endeavours, in teaching and learning in compulsory education focusing on the role of teachers and/or the role of technology for teaching and learning – if this is a joint application for co-research directors, this information should be provided for both
- a thorough understanding of the education research landscape in the UK and internationally and an excellent track record of building effective relationships between academia, policy and practice including commitment to interdisciplinary collaborations – if this is a joint application for co-research directors, this information should be provided for both
- a clear vision of how they will use their role as research director to help to deliver on the aspects described as above including how they plan to work with the ESRC office in the first months of their award to develop an opportunity for the research programme – if this is a joint application for co-research directors, a clear division of responsibility should be provided.
Overall funding for the research director role and related activity is £1.25 million (100% fEC).
Of this funding, up to £750,000 should cover the following costs:
- research director at ~0.4 FTE plus associated estates and indirects
- support staff up to a total of ~1.0 FTE across posts plus estates and indirects
- directly incurred costs, for example, leadership and coordination activities including an advisory expert group to the programme, travel and subsistence, arranging meetings, workshops or seminars.
Please note that ESRC will contribute 80% of costs.
Applicants are permitted a degree of flexibility in the funds that they request but should contact the ESRC office using the contact details at the end of this document to discuss any significant deviations from the above.
The remaining £500,000 (100% fEC) will be available as a flexible fund for the research director to distribute for related activity, original research or research synthesis, to respond to emerging research questions arising from the research programme with a focus on partnerships, co-production and impact. Justification for this fund is not required in the justification for resources section of the proposal. However, the case for support should outline proposals for how the research director will work with ESRC to put in a place a clear process for the governance and distribution of funds.
It is expected that the grant should start on 6 September 2021. This is to allow time for the director, in collaboration with the ESRC office, to develop the specifics of a research opportunity for ESRC to commission the programme.
The opportunity for the research programme will open for applications early in 2022 so that following peer review and panel assessment, the research grants will start by autumn 2022. The ESRC office will manage the commissioning activity of the research programme, from beginning to end. At this stage, it is envisaged that the programme will be made up of a small cluster of research grants, to a total value of £6.5 million (100% fEC) with ESRC contributing 80% of the costs.
The research programme will span the areas of the education research priority as set out in the 2019 ESRC delivery plan and the director will work closely with the ESRC office, during the autumn of 2021, to define the vision and focus of the research programme and provide expert advice to the office during its commissioning.
To avoid conflicts of interest, the research director will not be permitted to apply, or be involved in applications for funding under the future research programme that they will be coordinating. This restriction only applies to the research director and does not apply to other individuals at their institution.
The research director will continue to be eligible to apply under other UKRI funding opportunities which are not linked to the research programme that they will be coordinating, including to responsive mode schemes and opportunities under other initiatives. Where further funding is sought from UKRI the research director’s total time commitment on UKRI grants cannot exceed 100% of their total contracted hours.
Including impact in research grant proposals
ESRC expects applicants to consider the potential scientific, societal and economic impacts of their research, with outputs, dissemination and impact a key part of the criteria for most peer review and assessment processes.
It is important therefore to set out how you intend to identify and actively engage relevant users of the research and stakeholders (within and beyond the academic community including, for instance, the public sector, private sector, civil society or the wider public in general) and include evidence of any existing engagement with relevant end users.
You should articulate a clear understanding of the context and needs of these users and consider ways for the proposed research to meet or impact upon these needs.
The proposal should also outline how the legacy of proposed activity will be managed to engage beneficiaries and increase the likelihood of its impact in providing lasting value to participants, stakeholders and the wider social science community.
Opportunities for making an impact may arise, and should be taken, at any stage during the research lifecycle: the planning and research design stage; the period of funding; and all activities that relate to the project up to – and including – the time when funding has ended.
The research lifecycle therefore includes knowledge exchange and impact realisation activities – including reporting and publication, and the archiving, future use, sharing, and linking of data. It is important that researchers have in place a robust strategy for maximising the likelihood of impact opportunities and their own capacity for taking advantage of these.
To be effective, all communication, engagement and impact activities must be planned in detail and properly resourced in the proposal. Throughout the relevant sections of the research proposal, applicants should therefore actively consider how these impacts can be maximised and developed. Further information about how impact should be considered in the proposal can be found in the Je-S guidance document.
Applicants should note the following: COVID-19 guidance for applicants: accounting for the unknown impacts of COVID-19.