Applying for strategic equipment: Guidance for applicants

Strategic Equipment Process

A case for a piece of equipment that supports a portfolio of research can be submitted through the Strategic Equipment Process. Applications should be able to clearly explain:

  • The research that would be enabled by the equipment, at the host institution and beyond, as appropriate. The strategic importance of the equipment to the university and how the university will support the associated research group(s)
  • The national picture, both in terms of equipment available and research being undertaken
  • A clear argument for why the applicants are best placed to manage the equipment
  • Mechanisms for maximising usage within the research group, across institution(s) or across the UK

From time to time, EPSRC may also invite full business cases directly for specific items of equipment identified as a priority.

Stage 1 - submission of draft Business Case

Applicants must submit a draft two-page Business Case outlining the strategic need for the equipment to the 'Equipment Business Case Outline Call' using the Research Council's Joint electronic Submission system (Je-S) before the deadline specified and following the instructions provided. Submissions after the deadline will not be considered. The research enabled by the proposed equipment item(s) should predominantly fall within EPSRC remit.

The format of the business cases should conform to standard EPSRC rules on format. Please note that no additional documents or letters of support will be considered at this stage.

It is strongly recommended that you discuss your planned submission with the appropriate authorities at your university at the earliest opportunity. Applicants are also encouraged to engage with EPSRC contacts at an early stage to discuss fit to scheme or any other issues around the strategic equipment process. A list of contacts can be found at the bottom of the page.

There is no institutional limit to the number of submissions for each round of the process. However EPSRC strongly encourages universities to take a strategic approach to the submission of draft business cases, prioritising submissions if necessary.

The following information must be included in the two page draft business case and laid out in this order.

  • PI name
  • Host Institution
  • Item: Name and specific model (if relevant) of the item of equipment
  • Vendor: If a preferred vendor is known, this should be stated along with the reasons why. In any case, the mechanism that will be used to identify the preferred supplier should be articulated.
  • Description: Briefly describe the item of equipment and its primary functions. Please explain how the specifications of the instrument make it different from other similar equipment available for use. The capability of the proposed equipment should be established at this draft stage: this should be informed by discussion with your user community/industry/vendor. Fundamental changes to the business case should not be made between the draft and full business cases.
  • Cost: Please set out the expected cost of the item(s) of equipment in pounds sterling (inclusive of value added tax (VAT)) and list any associated maintenance or support costs.
    Less expensive items of equipment that are intrinsically associated with the strategic equipment may also be requested. Funding for maintenance of the equipment or for implementing or managing any sharing mechanisms can also be requested.
    In order to assist EPSRC’s financial planning, please state clearly the anticipated funds that would be requested from EPSRC (in other words cost after the deduction of any contributions) making a clear distinction between cost of equipment item(s) and the cost of any associated resources. Please describe the timescales associated with procurement of the equipment and when you anticipate you will spend any capital provision made.
    Please ensure the costs are as accurate as possible at this stage. The costs in a full proposal must be within +/-10% of the draft business case.
  • Usage: Indicate the proportion of equipment time that will be available for use by the group managing the equipment, other groups at the same institution, and researchers at other institutions. Indicate how additional users of the equipment will be identified and how all users will be prioritised. Information should be provided on the anticipated demand, indicating the likely main users and where they will be based. You should describe how you plan to interact and/or collaborate with key groups or shared facilities in your research area.
    Note that it is acceptable for the equipment to be used entirely by one research group although this would need to be very carefully justified. EPSRC are looking to maximise the usage of equipment for high-quality research, not necessarily share it as widely as possible.
  • Support: Please indicate how the item of equipment will be supported and maintained for the duration of any current or proposed research funding including any costs that would be recouped through charging.
  • Strategic Case: Please describe the research enabled by the equipment and/or the value added to existing research programmes. Indicate which of the EPSRC’s strategic priorities are met by the research enabled by this equipment. Describe how these priorities are met. Explain how the purchase of this item of equipment will compliment or enhance regional and/or national research capability. If an Equipment Roadmap exists for the type of equipment requested, please explain how this item relates to the roadmap.
  • Ensuring Maximum Value: Explain how the requested equipment will fit with other items of equipment, infrastructure and people support already at your university. Please indicate how the requested item(s) fits the strategy of your department and institution.
  • Contribution from Other Sources: Please describe here what contributions to the cost, operation or maintenance of the item of equipment will be found from other sources.
  • Alternatives: In the case that the proposal for equipment is not supported, describe the alternative options for using existing equipment of different specification or at other locations.

Assessment process

An internal sift process will be used to decide the items of equipment EPSRC will invite to submit full equipment cases. The sift panel will be comprised of EPSRC staff only. The assessment criteria at the sift stage are:

  • Is there evidence that the equipment will underpin an EPSRC research portfolio(s)? Have the applicants referred to balancing capability strategies, grand challenges or outcomes and explained how this investment will contribute to these priorities?
  • Potential usage: Is there evidence of a strong demand? Is the host institution appropriate?
  • Management of access to equipment: what plans are in place to ensure usage will be maximised?
  • Resources: are the resources requested from EPSRC justified?

EPSRC are taking a strategic approach to the funding of equipment over £138,000. At the outline stage, applicants are encouraged to give a reasoned argument to show how the research enabled by the equipment requested supports EPSRC's strategic priorities.

This process is not subject to the Repeatedly Unsuccessful Applicants Policy.

Applying through Je-S

Business cases should be submitted using the Research Councils' Joint electronic Submission (Je-S) System.

When adding a new proposal, you should select:

  • Council 'EPSRC'
  • Document type 'Outline Proposal'
  • Scheme 'EPSRC Outline'
  • On the Project Details page you should select the 'Equipment Business Case Outline' call.

Note that clicking 'submit document' on your proposal form in Je-S initially submits the proposal to your host organisation's administration, not to EPSRC. Please allow sufficient time for your organisation's submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the call closing date. EPSRC must receive your application by 16:00 on the closing date.

Stage 2 - Submission of full equipment case to the Strategic Equipment Panel

For draft business cases that are successful through the sift panel, EPSRC will invite submission of full proposals for consideration by the Strategic Equipment Panel. Applicants will be informed of the deadline for submission of the full proposal and will be sent detailed guidance. Applicants will be expected to apply to the deadline given, deferrals to later Strategic Equipment panels will not be allowed unless there are exceptional circumstances. Applications must be submitted through Joint electronic Submission (Je-S).

EPSRC may choose to invite competing proposals for an item of equipment if more than one business case is received for a similar item, or if a strategic need for a particular item of equipment has been identified through another mechanism. Since we wish to encourage community co-ordination of equipment requests.  EPSRC reserves the right to request further co-ordination before submission of a full equipment case if this is considered appropriate.

Assessment process

Full proposals will be sent to expert peer reviewers, including at least one nominated by the applicant. Proposals that do not receive sufficiently strong support from reviewers will be rejected without being put to the Strategic Equipment Interview Panel. Those with sufficiently favourable reviewers' comments will be assessed via an interview stage. Up to three representatives from the applicant team will be given the opportunity to participate in the interview in person, by teleconference or video-conference, but at least one applicant must attend in person.

One of the attendees must be the previous Strategic Equipment Account holder (i.e. pro-Vice-Chancellor or equivalent), or other individual able to present the fit to university strategy. It is suggested that the remaining two interview attendees cover the following aspects of the proposal; however this is only intended as a guide. It is the applicants’ own decision who should attend interview and in some circumstances a different team may be more appropriate:

  • Individual responsible for the procurement and day to day running of the equipment, including access.
  • Key user, able to discuss the scientific benefit of the equipment.

The Strategic Equipment Panel will rank the proposals according to the assessment criteria below. The available funds will be allocated to proposals in rank order.

Membership of the Strategic Equipment Panel will be refreshed regularly; the panel will be drawn from across EPSRC’s remit and will have a strategic knowledge of the UK research landscape.

Assessment criteria at the full equipment case stage are:

  • Quality, importance and breadth of the science enabled.
  • Potential usage: Is there evidence of a strong demand? Is the host institution appropriate?
  • Management of access to equipment: what plans are in place to ensure usage will be maximised?
  • Impact: The proposal must demonstrate that a strategy is in place to ensure maximum impact of the equipment is realised. Applicants must identify who will benefit from having access to the equipment and/or the research enabled by the equipment and what will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit.
  • Sustainability: how the equipment will be sustained and managed after any current research funding ends.
  • Resources: are the resources requested from EPSRC justified?

The full equipment business case process is not subject to the Repeatedly Unsuccessful Applicants Policy.

Top tips for applicants at the outline stage of the Strategic Equipment Process

  1. How does your equipment align to EPSRC priorities? The primary criterion for assessment in the outline stage of the Strategic Equipment Process is "Is there evidence that the equipment will underpin an EPSRC research portfolio(s)?" Many proposals list some research areas or other priorities identified by EPSRC (e.g. Grand Challenges, Cross-theme priority areas) and assert that the research enabled by the equipment aligns to them. This is not sufficient. Good proposals should include an explanation of how they align to these, giving examples of research that will benefit (again explaining how the equipment will help). Information on our research portfolio can be found on our website, including narratives on EPSRC's strategy for each of its Research Areas. Details on the Prosperity Outcomes and Equipment Roadmaps are available on the EPSRC website.
  2. How does your equipment align to the University’s strategy? You should demonstrate why the university is the most appropriate place for the equipment to be located and describe how it fits with the university’s strategy both in terms of equipment and research priorities.
  3. How will users be prioritised? This question needs to be answered and applicants should consider and explain the criteria to be used to prioritise access as well as the management of the process to grant access.
  4. Management. Applicants should outline an appropriate management structure to cover both operational and strategic management. Especially for large applications and ones with external users.
  5. Who will use it? Give names of users; this is especially important if you have set aside a certain time for external users. State a target percentage of time for different types of users (internal, external, industrial, etc.).
  6. Costing and Charging. Outlines should address the following: Will users be charged? Will there be different charges for different classes of users (e.g. pump prime access, industrial, internal, external)? How will these charges be calculated and what cost will they cover? "Sustainability" is an assessment criterion for the full stage but a brief indication of charging models is helpful at the outline stage.
  7. Total Cost and Institutional Contribution. Please ensure there is no room for confusion about what the actual cost of the equipment is and this should be after any vendor discounts and including VAT. It should also be clear exactly what is being asked for. For the outline stage only, please enter equipment as exceptions on the Je-S form and ensure this corresponds to what is requested in the two-page business case.
  8. What is the alternative? Many applicants neglect this section. It's important as it sets the context. Stating that there's no alternative is not constructive - we need to understand what the next best option is and what we'd lose out on if we can't support the request. Include equipment that exists in the UK even if getting access to this is difficult.