Strategic Equipment Process
The diagram on this page demonstrates the EPSRC approach to equipment funding; the most appropriate scheme or schemes to apply for are expressed as a function of the scale (from single user to national facility) and the nature of the equipment (from essential underpinning equipment to the cutting edge of innovation). Further details of each of the schemes are described in the following sections.
Scope of Scheme
Strategic Equipment is intended to enhance UK scientific capability and support a portfolio of high-quality, cutting-edge research of high priority to EPSRC. The request should fit with the host university strategy and enable research that predominantly falls within EPSRC's remit. Strategic Equipment could include, but is not limited to, cutting-edge technology that enables novel research, or high-specification equipment that enables research through increased capability and capacity (e.g. faster, higher resolution or more cost-effective results). Applications for Strategic Equipment should not include underpinning equipment that we would expect to see in a well-found lab.
Items of equipment with a value of £400,000 or more can be applied for through this process. Strategic Equipment bids can consist of one single item or a number of items that are clearly intended to be combined and used as a single asset. The threshold cannot be met solely by the accumulated cost of multiple, individual items of stand-alone equipment.
EPSRC wishes to encourage a culture of equipment sharing where appropriate in order to maximise usage within the research group, across institution(s) or across the UK. As such, Strategic Equipment should account for the national picture, both in terms of equipment available and research being undertaken. EPSRC has worked with the academic community to prepare several Equipment Roadmaps; Strategic Equipment applications should take these into account where applicable.
Overview of process and Deadlines
Outline Submission Deadline (By 16:00)
Outline panel date
Full Proposal Deadline
Interview panel date
Wednesday 2 September 2020
Wednesday 2 December 2020
Wednesday 5 May 2021
Tuesday 7 September 2021
Outline Stage: A two-page outline business case is submitted to EPSRC via Je-S. The outline business case is then assessed against the published assessment criteria by the internal EPSRC outline panel.
EPSRC either invites a full business case as a separate proposal though Je-S or does not invite a full business case.
Full Proposal Stage: Full business cases are assessed by a postal peer review stage. Unsupportive reviews lead to the full business case being rejected prior to panel. If supportive reviews are received these are shared with the applicant and the applicant can provide a two-page PI response.
Interview Stage: Interview with the external Strategic Equipment Panel. The Strategic Equipment Panel provide a rank-ordered list based on the published assessment criteria and advise on whether the equipment should be funded.
The duration of Strategic Equipment proposals must reflect that these are equipment grants and not research grants. The duration should cover the procurement, delivery, installation and set-up of the equipment. If it is appropriate the length of the grant can include the development of methods, protocols and access models, and a small amount of time for pump-priming projects to maximise usage of the equipment. The duration should not include time for research projects.
Applicants can request capital funding for items of equipment over £400K (including VAT) as well as funds for items of equipment under £400K that are essential to the running of the larger item of equipment.
Up to 100% FEC of the funding for the equipment can be requested, however contributions from the host organisation are welcome (see University Contribution section).
Non-capital costs on equipment proposals can be included where there is a clear requirement and should only be used to support the equipment requested. Such costs will be funded at 80% FEC. Investigator time must be associated with the management of the equipment or for promotion of the equipment in order to maximise the usage of the equipment.
EPSRC recognises that Research Technical Professionals (RTPs) play an important role in the set-up, maintenance and effective and efficient use of equipment and facilities. Such staff also provide training for users. As EPSRC wishes its funded equipment to be utilised to its maximum, in a sustainable manner, it is strongly encouraged that any costs for staff are focused towards funding RTPs. Applicants should consider the professional development and sustainability of the technical staff associated with the equipment.
Costs associated with the support of individual research projects, such as PI time for research and project specific consumables are not an allowable cost on this scheme. It would be for the university to consider how best to cover research project consumables through use and charging arrangements.
It is for the university to consider what an appropriate contribution towards the grant is. Contributions can come in many forms, examples include but are not limited to: a direct contribution towards the equipment; in kind investigator time; funding a Research Technical Professional or contributing refurbishment costs. The nature of the contribution should reflect the strategic importance of the equipment to the host organisation; relevant factors may include: 1) whether the equipment contributes a unique capability to the UK landscape 2) whether it provides essential additional capacity for the UK 3) the balance of usage at the departmental, regional or UK level.
Applicants must submit an outline 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 16:00 on the deadline specified and following the instructions provided below. Submissions received after the deadline will not be considered.
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, remit 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 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.
The following information must be included in the two page business case and laid out in the order indicated below. Please ensure that the assessment criteria for the scheme are addressed within the two page outline.
- 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: Very 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. See ‘What can be applied for?’ section.
In order to assist EPSRC’s financial planning, please state clearly the anticipated funds that would be requested from EPSRC (in other words the 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 and quantify 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, demonstrating the strategic relevance to EPSRC as well as the university and research group. 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 during the lifetime of the equipment funding and beyond. Discuss how costs would be recouped through charging and any other plans to ensure the sustainability of the equipment.
- Strategic Case: Please describe the new research enabled by the equipment and/or the value added to existing research programmes. Indicate which of the EPSRC’s strategic priorities (Research Area strategies/Grand Challenges/Cross-theme priority/Prosperity Outcomes) are met by the research enabled by this equipment and how these priorities are expected to be met. Explain how the purchase of this item of equipment will compliment or enhance regional and/or national research capability and clearly state the unmet need that the requested item of equipment will address. If an Equipment Roadmap or other strategic document exists for the type of equipment requested, please explain how this item will deliver against the recommendations within 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 including the host organisation or project partners.
- 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.
An internal EPSRC sift process will be used to decide the items of equipment EPSRC will invite to submit full equipment cases. The outline panel will be comprised of EPSRC staff only. The assessment criteria at the outline 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? (Primary)
- Potential usage: Is there evidence of a strong demand? Is the host institution appropriate? (Secondary)
- Management of access to equipment: what plans are in place to ensure usage will be maximised and appropriately regulated? (Secondary)
- Resources: are the resources requested from EPSRC justified? (Secondary)
This process is not subject to the Repeatedly Unsuccessful Applicants Policy.
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.
- Remember that the outline panel is made up of EPSRC staff only and the business case should be pitched to this audience.
- As this is an EPSRC scheme which is not covered by the Cross Council Funding Agreement, the majority of the research (over 50%) has to be within EPSRC remit. Please call the relevant contact at the bottom of the page if you are in doubt regarding remit.
- The outline is only two pages long and therefore it is advisable to focus on the sections of the business case that are aligned to the outline assessment criteria. Keep the ‘Item’, ‘Vendor’ and ‘Description’ sections as concise as possible.
- A lot of applicants list which EPSRC Research Areas/Priorities/Outcomes the equipment aligns to but neglect to state how the equipment will take the strategies in these areas forwards – don’t forget to add this detail, it’s the primary criterion at the outline stage.
- Strategic Equipment is intended to support equipment that enables a range of research, however due to the length of the outline it is better to focus on the most pertinent Research Areas/Priorities/Outcomes rather than providing a long list of priorities.
- Who will use it? Remember to quantify and evidence the expected usage of the equipment in terms of internal vs external usage, academic vs industry etc. Gives names institutions and why they need access to the equipment as evidence of key users. We do not need letters of support at the outline stage of the process but these will be required at the full proposal stage.
- How will you prioritise users? What assessment criteria will you use and who will make these decisions? It is advisable to have external/independent oversight on the management/steering board.
- Will you charge users? What will the charges cover? Will you charge different user ‘types’ different rates? “Sustainability” is an assessment criterion at the Full Proposal stage therefore brief consideration should be given in the outline.
- Applicants often neglect to clearly state the need for the item requested. Why do you need the extra capability? How will it advance the research enabled? Why do you need the extra capacity? How does the requested equipment sit within the landscape for similar equipment both within your institution and nationally?
- Why should the equipment be located at the host institution? Why is it the most appropriate location? Does it align with the university strategy for equipment and research? Is there a regional need?
- What is the alternative? It’s not constructive just to state there is no alternative. Please indicate what plan B is. What will we lose out on if this request isn’t supported?
If your Strategic Equipment outline business case is successful at the outline panel you will be invited to submit a full proposal for consideration by the Strategic Equipment Interview panel.
Applicants will be informed of the deadline for submission of the full proposal and the potential dates for the interview. Detailed guidance and submission instructions will be sent out. 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 the Joint electronic Submission (Je-S) system.
Full proposals will be sent to expert peer reviewers; one of whom we expect to be nominated by the applicant, though this is not guaranteed. Proposals with sufficiently favourable reviewer comments will be invited to submit a PI response. Those proposals without supportive reviews will be rejected at this stage.
The assessment criteria for both the full proposal and the interview stage are:
- Quality and Breadth of to be enabled (Primary)
- The novelty, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders including users;
- The transformative aspects or potential outcomes that will be enabled?
- The suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact.
- Strategic Importance at both an institutional and national level (Secondary Major)
- Meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique and/or world leading activity
- Complements and enhances regional and/or national research capability, including relationships to the ESPRC equipment and research portfolio.
Please comment on the appropriateness of:
- The evidence of strong demand and community need from a diverse and inclusive user base.
- The proposed alternative approaches to how the research would be achieved should the equipment not be funded.
- Sustainability (Secondary Major)
- Recovery of running costs (maintenance, repairs, consumables staff time) during and beyond the lifetime of the grant; appropriateness of the charging model;
- Support and development of the specialist technical staff beyond the grant period;
- Sustaining and evolving a diverse and inclusive user base beyond the lifetime of the grant and any “free-at-the-point-of-access” period.
- Applicant and Host Institution (Secondary)
- Appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s);
- Balance of skills of the team, including collaborators;
- Management of the Equipment (Secondary)
- The workplan and associated risks;
- Plans for prioritising access and maximising usage of the equipment;
- Data management and accessibility.
- Resources (Secondary)
- Appropriateness and justification of costs for the equipment;
- Appropriateness and justification of resource costs (staff, maintenance etc);
- Appropriateness of any contributions from the host and any collaborators;
- Any resources requested for activities to either expand the user base, increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation.
The full business case is not subject to the Repeatedly Unsuccessful Applicants Policy.
Further information on Guidance for reviewers
Please note that the documentation required for the Full Strategic Equipment scheme has differences to a standard proposal. The required documentation is as follows:
Case for Support (up to 8 sides of A4)
The case for support should expand on the information already provided in the 2 page business case and should address each of the following headings:
- Track record (up to 1.5 A4 sides)
- Description of the equipment
- Research enabled
- Strategic Importance, including Institutional Strategy for capital investment and Alternatives
- Sustainability (up to 1.5 A4 sides)
- Management of the Equipment
- Resources and Host Institution Contribution
Business Case (up to 2 sides of A4)
An updated version of the outline business case.
Justification of Resources (up to 2 sides of A4)
A description of the need for the resources requested both in terms of the equipment and where appropriate, support costs. It should be made clear in this document if there is a sole supplier of the equipment.
Work plan (up to 1 side of A4)
To include details of the timescales for procurement, delivery and installation of the equipment, highlighting where the potential risks are.
Statements of Support from Project Partners (no page limit)
Signed, dated letters on headed paper from each Project Partner identified detailing the approximate financial contribution from the partner.
Letter of Support from key users of the equipment (no page limit)
Letters that show significant support for the proposal and a clear intention to use the equipment. It is strongly advised to seek letters from a cross-section of key users
Host Organisation Statement (no page limit)
A letter from the appropriate authority at the host institution confirming and clearly detailing the university contribution (uploaded as “Additional Document”).
Equipment Quotations (no page limit)
A minimum of three written quotes are required for items of equipment over £138,000. A minimum of three verbally obtained quotes for items of equipment costing between £25,000 and £138,000 are required and should be detailed in the Justification of Resources.
Summary of Equipment Quotes (up to 1 side of A4)
One page summarising all the written and verbally obtained quote for each item of equipment requested, not just the preferred vendor. A table format is preferable. This attachment is mandatory as written quotes are not seen by peer review.
The Strategic Equipment Interview panel membership will be drawn from across the breadth of EPSRC’s remit. Full interview guidance will be sent to those applicants invited to the interview stage. Up to three representatives from the applicant team will be given the opportunity to participate in person. Teleconference and video-conference can be made available if necessary, however we do expect at least one applicant to attend in person.
One of the attendees must be a senior representative of the university who is able to present the fit to university strategy and justify any contributions towards the equipment. This person could be the Strategic Equipment Account holder, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor or equivalent.
It is suggested that the other two attendees cover the following aspects of the proposal:
- Principal Investigator, responsible for the procurement and management of the equipment
- Key user, able to discuss the scientific benefit of the equipment. The key user could be an industrial user, a user from a different institution or a different department.
- Research facility manager or research technical professional to discuss access to and maximising usage of the equipment.
The above is only intended as a guide and it is the applicant’s own decision as to who should attend the interview.
All aspects of the above assessment criteria will be probed at the interview stage and the Strategic Equipment Interview Panel will prioritise applications for funding according to these criteria.
If you have any questions about the Strategic Equipment Process or if you are planning a Resource Only Strategic Equipment proposal please use the following Theme contacts:
Generic questions and submission of draft business cases - EPSRC Equipment Funding
ICT - Maryam Crabbe-Mann
Engineering - James Tarver
Healthcare Technologies - Kate Reading
Manufacturing - Richard Bailey
Energy - Neil Bateman