Programme grants


GEN1: General

These notes are intended to provide reviewers with specific guidance for the completion of the reviewer form. They should be read in conjunction with the reviewer Principles

Specific guidance is available for each individual section of the report you are completing. A full justification for your assessment of the application should be provided. The prompts are given as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of an application. Please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to. You should note that your review will be sent back, unattributed, to the investigator, who will then be allowed the opportunity to comment on any factual errors and answer any specific queries you have raised.

We are committed to support the recommendations and principles set out by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment  You should not use journal-based metrics, such as journal impact factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an investigator’s contributions, or to make funding decisions.

For the purpose of research assessment, please consider the value and impact of all research outputs (including datasets, software, inventions, patents, preprints, other commercial activities, etc.) in addition to research publications. You should consider a broad range of impact measures including qualitative indicators of research impact, such as influence on policy and practice.

The content of a paper is more important than publication metrics, or the identity of the journal, in which it was published, especially for early-stage investigators. Therefore, you should not use journal impact factor (or any hierarchy of journals), conference rankings and metrics such as the H-index or i10-index when assessing UKRI grants.

GEN2: Assessment methodology

You are asked to assess the application/report against a number of criteria. These criteria may vary according to the scheme or call that the application has been submitted to. Prompts are provided as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of an application. A full justification for your assessment of the application should be included in each section: please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to.

You are asked throughout to assess “the application” but please be clear that this means the ideas, concepts and approaches contained therein not the specific form of the document itself. The clarity of presentation may help or hinder your ability to review an application, so a comment to this effect would be appropriate, but this should not become in any form a competition in stylish writing. Elegance of presentation is not of itself an assessment criterion for an EPSRC grant!

There is no set way for answering questions on the form. However, prioritisation meetings generally find reviews most useful where they explicitly identify the main strengths and weaknesses in the application, while also giving a clear view on which should be accorded the greater significance and why. It is also a helpful technique to raise issues or concerns with the application in the form of explicit questions for the applicants. This makes it easier for the panel to assess how complete and convincing the applicants responses are.

GEN3: Ethics

It is important that EPSRC funds are used ethically and responsibly but this is mainly assured by requiring that universities have in place and operate appropriate ethical approval processes. Ethical considerations should not therefore normally be an assessment criterion and you should not take these into account when making your assessment.

If the application is in a subject or area that causes you serious personal concern, to the extent that you feel you cannot provide an objective review, then you should decline to review the application giving the reason as other, and stating “ethical issues” in the comment box. If you have a concern that the application raises ethical issues that have not been clearly identified or addressed, then you should raise this directly with EPSRC who will need to make a policy decision on how the application should be treated.

GEN4: Linked proposals

Where two or more applications have been formally linked to form a single research project, you are
requested to submit a single review covering the project as a whole.

GEN8: Scope of Scheme

Programme Grants are a flexible mechanism to provide funding to world-leading research groups to address significant major research challenges. They are intended to support a variety of activities focussing on one strategic research theme. Although it is expected that most applications will be interdisciplinary and collaborative they can address key challenges in a single discipline.

For further information please see here

EXC2: Excellence (including overall vision and ambition)

Primary Criterion

The applicants must articulate the overall research vision. To enhance the potential of achieving it, a world-class team of complementary expertise should have been brought together. The research programme should be ambitious, creative, innovative, and address key research challenges. It should also be sustainable beyond the lifetime of the grant. A strong scientific case for support must be demonstrated with the proposed research set into the context of the current state of knowledge and other work under way in the field. The importance of the research theme proposed to the strategy of the respective universities involved should also be articulated. The expected outputs should result in a significant step change, with major impact on the research area beyond the immediate team, and appreciably raise the UK's international profile.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the degree of research excellence of the application making reference to:

  • The novelty, relationship to the context, and timeliness
  • The ambition, adventure, and transformative aspects identified
  • The appropriateness of the proposed methodology

(For multi-disciplinary applications please state which aspects of the application you feel qualified to review)

IMP1: Importance

Secondary Major Criterion

Drawing upon what the applicant has said, reviewers should comment on:

  • How the proposed research contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other research disciplines, contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges, contributes to current or future UK economic success and/or enables future development of key emerging industry(s)
  • The extent to which the research proposed has the potential to meet national strategic needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world leading research activity (including areas of niche capability)
  • How the research fits with and complements other UK research already funded in the area or related areas, including the relationship to the EPSRC portfolio and our stated strategy set out in “Our Portfolio”.

The extent to which each bullet point is addressed will depend on the nature of the research proposed. Reviewers should comment on how the research relates to EPSRC’s research areas and strategies (many projects will be relevant to more than one EPSRC research area) and complements EPSRC's current portfolio. Information on the portfolio is available through the EPSRC's Grants on the Web (GoW).

The reviewer form asks reviewers to comment on the national importance of the research. Include how the research:

  • Contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges and/or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)
  • Meets national needs by establishing/maintaining a unique world leading activity
  • Complements other UK research already funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio



APP2: Applicant and Partnerships

Secondary Criterion

Programme grants are for world-leading teams. You should explicitly comment on the international standing of not only the Principal Investigator but also the rest of the team and the appropriateness of the academic partnership.

The Reviewer form asks reviewers:

Please comment on the applicant’s ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to:

(1) Appropriateness of the track record and international benchmarking of the applicant(s); (2) Balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators; (3) Development and promotion of the careers of all its team members, including investigators, research assistants, technicians and aligned students; (4) Ability of the PI and team to lead/manage a large, complex investment with sufficient support, infrastructure and resources for the day-to-day running of the Programme Grant.

MAN3: Resources and Management

Secondary Criterion

The proposal must demonstrate that there is a clear management plan, which will ensure that resources, including manpower are deployed in the most effective way to deliver high quality research outputs that have the potential to induce a step-change in the knowledge of the subject area. It is expected that the deliverables and milestones will be routinely reviewed to ensure that the most exciting and promising lines of research are pursued and that sufficient resources are assigned to ensure the project is professionally managed. For more advice, see guidance on managing large research activities.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Please comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and on whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:

(1) Effectiveness of the proposed planning and management;

(2) Appropriateness of the requested resources;

(3) Suitability of proposed strategy for flexible allocation of resources and use of independent advisory board.

ANI1: Animal research and human participation

Where the applicants have ticked any boxes confirming that the application involves either animal research or human participation then you are asked to comment specifically on any ethical considerations and particularly on whether ethical approval procedures have been complied with. You should also comment on any potential adverse consequences for humans, animals or the environment and whether these risks have been addressed satisfactorily in the application. It is particularly important that resources relating to these aspects are explicitly justified in terms of need, scale and nature of resource, so for example for animal research you should comment specifically on the need to use animals, the choice of species, the number of animals it is intended to use.

ASS1: Overall assessment

You should provide your overall assessment of the application. Think of this as your report to the prioritisation panel, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses you identified in the individual questions and then making a clear and explicit recommendation about whether or not you believe the application warrants funding.

Not all questions carry equal weighting. Research Quality (excellence) will always be pre-eminent and no application can be funded without clearly demonstrating this aspect. National Importance should also be a major consideration in making your assessment. The weighting between the remaining aspects will depend on the specific nature of the particular application. You should indicate those aspects that you accorded higher or lower priority and why.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to summarise their view of the application.

ASS2: Overall Assessment - Part assessment

It may be that you feel you can only comment with authority on some specific part or component of an application, for example with a multidisciplinary project, or perhaps where there is a strong user-led element. In such a case you should identify those aspects that you are able to comment on, and then give your review on just those aspects. Different reviewers will have been asked to cover those aspects you cannot and the panel will then have the job of integrating these different comments. It is particularly important therefore that the panel have clear advice on the merits of each component. Your comments, scores and confidence level should explicitly reflect your views on those aspects you can assess, and you are asked not to moderate these in any way to reflect those areas you feel you cannot comment on.

A risk with part assessment is that it will miss the added value of the overall project (the whole ideally being greater than the sum of the parts) so even where you can only comment with authority on one aspect it will be helpful to the panel to have your views on how compelling the arguments for the overall application are. Other issues you might also comment on are the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the collaboration, the value of the contribution of the component you can judge, and the significance of this in terms of future potential development in your own field.

ASS3: Overall Assessment - Overall score

You should assign a score using the six point scale provided. This should reflect your overall conclusion, and should be consistent with your comments on the individual sections of your review taking account of all the assessment criteria and the various weightings you applied.

The reviewer form asks the reviewer to score the application:

1 - This application is scientifically or technically flawed

2 - This application does not meet one or more of the assessment criteria

3 - This application meets all assessment criteria but with clear weaknesses

4 - This is a good application that meets all assessment criteria but with minor weaknesses

5 - This is a strong application that broadly meets all assessment criteria

6 - This is a very strong application that fully meets all assessment criteria

ASS4: Level of confidence

To assist the prioritisation panel in reaching their overall conclusion on the application, and to help EPSRC in monitoring the effectiveness of its reviewer selection procedures, you are asked to indicate your confidence with regard to this review. This should report your own confidence, or otherwise, in being able to make your assessment, not your confidence in the success of the application if it were funded. If, for any reason, you feel that you are not able to assess the application, please advise EPSRC accordingly.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to score their confidence as low, medium or high.

ADV1 (Advocacy for engineering and the physical sciences)

Secondary Criterion

The proposal must demonstrate how the group will be advocates for the engineering and physical sciences. Applicants should specifically address how they will influence its policy makers on the importance of engineering and physical sciences. Advocacy through public engagement activities can also be considered, as long as these activities are directly related to the programme of research applied for.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

  • Please comment on the degree of advocacy for the engineering and physical sciences proposed

ADD2: Additionality

The proposal should demonstrate the added value and synergy of supporting the research through a programme grant. This should include how the length and flexibility of both staff and other resources will be used and the added benefits of this approach. It should also demonstrate how it is different from standard responsive mode proposals in terms of the particular research activities that will be undertaken.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to:

Primary criterion. Please comment on the added value delivered through the proposal, making reference to: (1) Added value and need for supporting this research as a coherent programme of inter-related research activities and not a number of smaller research grants;

(2) Need for the added flexibility of resources and the longer term nature of the grant to achieve the proposed research goals.