Terms of reference


Strategic advisory teams (SATs) provide the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with the strategic advice needed to develop, implement, and modify plans on a thematic level.

SATs are regarded as a flexible resource providing EPSRC, via theme leaders, timely thematic advice, drawing on a range of perspectives from across our key stakeholder groups. The stakeholder perspectives likely to be most represented across all SATs are:

  • academic
  • users of research, including business, third sector, government and representative bodies
  • upstream societal and ethical engagement

Themes without a dedicated SAT draw on the available expertise and advice from across the EPSRC advisory network. SAT members may also be asked to participate in cross-EPSRC or cross-UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) advisory groups to advise on a cross-cutting thematic area.

An important principle governing the function of SATs is the separation of the provision of strategic advice from delivery of peer review and decision-making by EPSRC staff. SAT members are individually and collectively responsible for the advice they provide. The theme leader works across EPSRC to deliver the theme contribution to EPSRC’s strategies, drawing on the range of inputs received, including SAT advice.

A member of the SAT chairs the meetings primarily to ensure that the reported outcomes accurately reflect the nature of the advice received, and that all present at the meeting discharge their roles appropriately.


Each SAT is expected to:

  • act as a body of advisers to EPSRC, with a primary affiliation to one theme area, helping to ensure that the skills and research base are there to support the advancement of knowledge and the future needs of business and society
  • provide an early alert to EPSRC on priority and emerging issues, contributing to the development of strategy within and between themes and at a corporate level
  • alert EPSRC to new and emerging research and training opportunities, including international opportunities
  • act as a sounding board for the early development of relevant policy and priorities, ensuring that policy development is appropriate and has credibility
  • help with two-way communication between EPSRC and the research community
  • on occasion, provide input as a matter of urgency on specific topics as requested by EPSRC
  • understand the benefits and scientific outputs of our large investments by, for example, interacting with EPSRC researchers to identify compelling science stories and breakthroughs and using this to inform future priorities
  • work across UKRI to identify cross-council opportunities and priorities
  • advise on the balance between research and training activities
  • advise on areas or issues that need further exploration or investigation
  • develop input on specific topics as requested by EPSRC’s executive chair


Each SAT will have a maximum of 15 members, including the chair. Members are drawn from EPSRC’s stakeholder groupings, reflecting a diverse mix of characteristics and backgrounds. They are expected to bring a broad strategic view to the table, and to act as ‘generous generalists’, advising across the breadth of the theme. They should not act as representatives of their own organisation, research area or sector.

All members are required to declare any personal, private, or commercial interests that might conflict with their ability to provide impartial advice. Once declared, appropriate action will be agreed with the theme lead and chair. This may include withdrawal from any discussion of topics in which they have such an interest.

Nominations and recruitment

Recruitment for SATs is carried out every two years through an open call for nominations, including self-nominations and invited nominations from key stakeholder groupings. Based on the competencies and characteristics required for the vacancies, EPSRC identifies those it might wish to appoint.

SAT chairs are appointed when the term of a current SAT chair is nearing its end. The Head of Programme relating to the SAT will identify a recommended new chair, with consideration for EDI, ask the member if they would like to be chair, and then get endorsement from their Deputy Director before formally announcing the appointment.

The Appointments Assurance Committee (AAC), a subset of Council, has oversight of the process for all appointments of EPSRC’s strategic advisers, including SATs. This committee considers and reviews EPSRC’s proposals and the rationale for these recommendations, challenging as appropriate, and reviews the appropriateness of the recruitment process. The executive chair is ultimately responsible for confirming and ratifying appointments, taking advice as appropriate from the AAC.


Membership is for two or four years, with the possibility of extension allowing a total term of six years. To ensure maximum flexibility and long-term continuity across the membership of the SATs, EPSRC staggers the terms of members. If there is a change in a SAT member’s circumstances which may affect their membership, the theme lead should be informed as soon as possible to agree next steps.


Theme leaders and their teams engage SAT members in a number of ways, both formally and informally. It is expected that SAT members will need to
commit up to 10 days to SAT work per year. Formal SAT meetings take place up to three times a year, with at least one meeting scheduled in spring or summer and another in the autumn. Where possible, the timing of SAT meetings across themes is aligned, although for logistical or strategic reasons this may not always be possible. In addition, and as the need arises, SAT members may engage in:

  • EPSRC-led workshops (as a participant or speaker)
  • mentorship
  • round-table discussions with stakeholders
  • working groups (theme-specific, cross-EPSRC or cross-UKRI)

Every effort will be made to support remote participation to SAT activities, if this is appropriate, and to take into account part-time working. EPSRC has developed guidelines to highlight the support available to researchers with caring responsibilities.

Non-SAT members may be invited to SAT meetings on an ad-hoc basis as appropriate, to assist the theme with specific activities, providing additional and complementary advice.

Members are paid a fee for each SAT activity they are involved with and, when attending SAT meetings in person, are reimbursed for travel and subsistence expenses in line with the UKRI travel policy.


Theme leaders receive input from a range of sources including senior management in universities, business partners, academic researchers, international partners, government, and other UK agencies.

They work with their colleagues to synthesise these different inputs so that they understand the nature of the challenge, opportunity or issue arising and to decide on the action needed. Expectations should be considered in this wider context.

Through the theme leader, EPSRC will:

  • provide information so that SAT members are adequately briefed and can contribute meaningfully
  • provide forums and tools for members to provide appropriate, high-quality strategic advice
  • maintain members’ knowledge of all theme activities, and EPSRC strategic thinking and direction by facilitating the flow of information between the SAT and EPSRC Council
  • be clear about the information SAT members can share more widely and that which is provided in confidence
  • inform members about the outcome of their advice and how it is used and, in particular, explain the rationale where the advice has not been followed
  • raise the profile of the work of SATs, and disseminate summaries of SAT discussions to inform the broader community, as required
  • conduct an efficiency review of EPSRC SATs every second year

The members of the SAT will:

  • act within the seven principles of public life, in particular to provide independent, informed advice avoiding actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and to take a collegiate approach to policy and strategy development
  • act as ‘generous generalists’ across the breadth of the thematic area, representing their own experience and sharing insights from their own organisations, regions or nations (as appropriate)
  • participate in cross-SAT sessions on specific topics and in wider task and finish groups with EPSRC’s other advisory bodies, including the Science, Engineering and Technology Board and Council, as appropriate
  • participate in cross-UKRI advisory task and finish groups covering EPSRC’s strategic delivery plan and UKRI’s strategy where appropriate and relevant opportunities exist
  • constructively challenge or validate EPSRC’s perspectives, drawing on the available evidence and their own experiences
  • take individual and collective ownership of the advice they provide while recognising the separation of that advice from responsibility for the decisions made (which rests with EPSRC)
  • work as a team with other SAT members and EPSRC and be proactive in bringing forward issues and opportunities to the attention of the theme leader
  • attend SAT meetings and other SAT-related activities (covered in the ‘operation’ section)

They are also expected to use their profile as SAT members to improve two-way communications with and between their respective stakeholder communities and, where appropriate, with decision-makers. For example:

  • gathering intelligence that can be brought to bear in policy development
  • explaining EPSRC policies to the community
  • supporting us in engaging with government departments, for example contributing to efforts to secure leverage from government on research and innovation spend, building EPSRC and UKRI’s profile and articulating the value of our work to government as well as providing insight from a local, regional or national perspective as required
  • advocating on specific issues on behalf of the engineering and physical sciences

The chair of the SAT will:

  • work with EPSRC staff and SAT members to ensure that SAT meetings are run in accordance with the frameworks described on the page
  • provide advice to EPSRC in advance of SAT meetings
  • work in partnership with EPSRC and members of the SAT to develop the forward plan of possible discussion topics for future meetings
  • ensure that all SAT member views are heard at SAT meetings, the recorded advice is representative of the views expressed, and all present discharge their roles appropriately

In the event that SAT members do not fulfil the above expectations, for example if attendance is poor, EPSRC have recourse to step down SAT members and seek replacement members from the pool of applicants from the most recent recruitment round.

Success features or outcomes

These are:

  • compelling, well-evidenced thematic priorities that fit within UKRI strategy and EPSRC strategic delivery plan
  • high-quality evidence and assurance to support decision-making by EPSRC, UKRI and its other advisory bodies
  • membership representing the UK engineering and physical sciences community that considers factors such as geographical balance and career stages, and provides the expertise, insight and diversity of voices required for the domain area of the SAT. View the EPSRC equality, diversity, and inclusion action plan 2022 to 2025
  • flexible and adaptable operations which allow EPSRC and UKRI to dynamically respond to opportunities

Last updated: 5 June 2024

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.