Funding

Partnership grant

What is a Partnership grant?

Partnership grants provide core funds for one to five years to support partnerships between diverse groupings of researchers and can be used for infrastructure support, platform activities and for bringing together managed consortia or multidisciplinary collaborations.

The Partnership grant scheme is designed to support collaborative activities that add value to high-quality scientific programmes that are already supported by grants from the MRC and other funders. It is NOT designed to fund stand-alone, hypothesis-driven research projects, which may otherwise be eligible for MRC Research or Programme grant type funding.

Typically, successful Partnership grants include a varying combination of the following components: networking and partnership activities, underpinning infrastructure activities (either for establishing a unique resource or exploiting it), capacity building and primary research. Please refer to the Partnership grant case studies as exemplars of successful grants.

Funding can be provided for the following activities:

  • Establishing multi-disciplinary collaborative partnerships or consortia
  • Developing strategy to strengthen research activity across the field
  • Knowledge sharing across research departments, or between Institutions
  • Training, career development and capacity building (excluding fellowships but including PhD studentships, see details on ‘Studentships’ below)
  • Establishing shared infrastructure, for example staff, systems, equipment, seminars, workshops.  This could include a co-ordinated set of needs-led and complementary networking activities (including outreach work and travel) with a defined output. Applications for funding to support only networking activities will be rejected.
  • Exceptionally, small scale, pilot, proof of principle, multidisciplinary, high risk projects which will strengthen the Partnerships’ strategy may be considered but should not be the focus of the application

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Who can apply?

The partnership must be led by a Principal Investigator (PI) based at a research organisation (RO) that is eligible to apply in response mode.  Please see section 1 of the MRC guidance for applicants for information on eligibility.

The PI must demonstrate that they will direct the proposed partnership activities and manage the funding on behalf of the MRC to ensure that the objectives are fully delivered. Only researchers who will provide a significant expert input to the partnership should be included as a Co-Investigator (CoI). The proposal should outline other major collaborations important for the research and clearly demonstrate how all of the investigators named in the proposal would work together, as well as identify their respective and complementary contributions.

This scheme is open to those based at a University Unit, but is NOT open to MRC Institutes and Units. However, MRC Institutes and Units can apply as co-applicants on any grant.

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Financial support

Partnership grants are NOT designed to fund stand-alone, hypothesis-driven research projects, which may otherwise be eligible for MRC Research or Programme grant type funding. Resource requests will vary between partnerships (see case studies) therefore applicants are strongly advised to discuss this with the relevant Programme Manager prior to submitting a grant (see ‘How to apply?’).

Where resources are requested for investigator time the proposal should outline the input of each of the named investigators and justify why the stated time commitment is necessary for the partnership. It is anticipated that in most instances only the PI and possibly one or two CoIs will seek reimbursement in this context. Please note that project partners are not expected to request MRC funding to participate in the partnership.

Minimal resources should be requested for scientific research. For example postdoctoral research positions may only be supported in exceptional cases, however, where justified, technical posts may be requested as part of the grant.

Partnership grants may support purchase of equipment, or infrastructure that is key to the aims of the partnership and/or provides a platform for activities associated with the partnership.

If international collaboration is key to the success of the partnership, funding the cost for work undertaken at an overseas RO is permitted but should be discussed with the Programme Manager before submitting the application. This excludes MRC overseas Units, who should follow the guidance in section 3.2 of the MRC guidance for applicants. More information on allowable overseas costs can be found in section 3.1.5 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

MRC does not expect studentships to form a major component of Partnership grant applications. Studentships may be included only where distinctive added value to the students’ training experience can be demonstrated, such as through a unique environment created by the proposed partnership. Applicants must demonstrate why any proposed studentships could not be leveraged from existing studentship support, for example MRC Doctoral Training Partnership funding. Applicants should also consider how the proposed studentships will add value to, and contribute towards the success of the partnership.

In the application, the cost of any studentships should be included in the ‘Other Directly Incurred Costs’ section of your Je-S application and marked as an exception (check/tick box indicating ‘Is Exception’ to claim the student costs at the permitted 100%). Requested costs should be at or above the RCUK minimum stipend and fees rates and include any expected increases in costs for the duration of the studentship.

Further information regarding studentships can be found on the studentships page. Proposals requesting studentship support should also note RCUK’s statement of Expectations for Doctoral Training.

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How to apply

Pre-Application Stage

Applicants interested in submitting a Partnership grant MUST contact the appropriate MRC Programme Manager and provide a brief abstract of the Partnership grant to help them consider fit to the scheme. This initial contact with the MRC Programme Manager should take place a minimum of 6 weeks before the relevant submission deadline (further information regarding Research Board Submission deadlines).

Please select the appropriate link below to read each Research Board’s remit and scope. Each page also contains details of the science area for each programme manager and their email contact information:

If you are unsure who to contact please contact our Research Funding Policy & Delivery Team (email RFPD@Headoffice.mrc.ac.uk or telephone 01793 416440).

Following receipt of the abstract the MRC Programme Manager will provide advice on how best to shape the Partnership grant and request a pre-application case for support to be submitted by email. Please note that the pre-application case for support should not exceed 2 pages of A4 but may include one additional page for references (to be included as page 3 of the case for support).

The case for support should include the following information:

  • The title of the potential MRC Partnership
  • A list of the PI, CoIs and their affiliations
  • A list of collaborators (if known at this stage)
  • The aims of the proposal, which should address why the partnership is important and outline the scientific plans.
  • A high level indication of the likely cost to the MRC, including staffing and equipment costs. These resources should be included as part of the two page case for support.

Applicants should also provide a two page CV for the PI and CoIs, including a succinct summary of recent funding for those investigators. An additional one page for key publications can be added as page three of the CV document.

Full Application Stage

Applicants invited to complete a full application via Je-S will be notified in advance of the relevant Board deadline. Applications should include a cover letter that confirms the name of the Programme Manager who agreed the application could be submitted.

Applicants should read section 2 of the MRC guidance for applicants for information on how to complete the proposal form. If the Partnership grant will involve a collaboration with one or more industrial partners (contributing either in cash or in kind) then applicants will need to comply with MRC guidance on MICAs.

Case for support

The guidelines below list specific points that should be addressed when writing the case for support for Partnership grants but should be read in conjunction with the general guidance in section 2.4 of the MRC guidance for applicants. Each proposal is unique, and it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that all the reasonable questions that the referees and MRC research boards need to address are answered in the proposal, especially if the plan or resources are unusual or complex.

The case for support for full applications should consist of a maximum of 8 pages for three years duration or less and up to 12 pages for more than three years. These page limits include references.

For large facilities the case for support should be 12 pages regardless of the project duration. If funding is requested for a large facility in one university but which is providing a service to the research community as a whole, applicants should make this clear within their application.

Importance
  • State the aims of the partnership.
  • Explain why establishing a partnership is appropriate, and significant for this area(s) of research
  • Explain how establishing a partnership will facilitate the work of the applicants in order to increase productivity and create added value
  • Provide justification as to why the elements of support requested cannot be met through other means
  • Explain how a partnership will improve the UK’s international standing in this area

Partnership Plans

  • Describe the activities associated with the partnership, please include precise timelines and indicate where activities may be concurrent. You may include a Gantt Chart to depict this.
  • For any requests for infrastructure or equipment, please state how this will be used by the partners to further the aims and objectives of the partnership
  • If the partnership includes studentships, please state exactly when students will start, at which department / RO they may be based and if relevant state when students may move between departments / ROs
  • Please describe how the partnership will advance the scientific area, and outline future plans:
    • for sustaining the partnership beyond the proposed duration of MRC funding
    • to obtain further funding (from MRC and elsewhere) to support any follow-on hypothesis-driven research, which may develop as a result of the partnership
Participants in the partnership and existing funding

Provide the following information for the participants taking part in the partnership:

  • How the Partnership grant will enable researchers to work together and how it will build capability in a key strategic area, for example partnerships that bring together researchers who otherwise would not work together. There should be clear discrimination between CoIs and partners/collaborators.
  • How the partnership between the participants will benefit the wider community and the research field
  • Justification as to why each of the named investigators is necessary for the partnership, including their level of time commitment
  • A very brief report on the progress of recent research for key investigators in the partnership including an acknowledgement of any previous or current MRC funding and progress to date on delivery of this research. The scale of support provided should also be included, for example number of post-docs and/or technicians, and total amount of consumables and equipment.
Environment
  • Describe the environment(s) in which the partnership will take place
  • Describe the host RO(s) support for the partnership
  • If the proposal requests shared equipment describe where this will be sited and how it will be supported by the host RO(s). Also describe the management arrangements for ensuring equity of access.
  • If the proposal includes studentships describe the strategic rationale for including these within the partnership, including the distinctive added value to the students training experience
Management
  • Provide an overview of how the partnership will be managed, for example plans for regular meetings, plans for bringing together disparate communities, strategy for the set-up of networks, arrangements for access and upkeep of equipment. Please note, while networking or workshop activities can add value to a partnership, applications centred only on these types of activities will not be accepted.
  • If students are requested in a multi-centre environment, explain the arrangements for achieving high standards of supervision and mentoring and confirm that the lead RO will ensure students will have access to appropriate post- graduate skills training and support services, in accordance with RCUK Expectations for Doctoral Training.

Creating the application in Je-S

The guidance below on creating a Partnership grant application in Je-S should be read in conjunction with the general guidance on how to apply in section 1.6 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

Login to your Je-S account using the username and password you have chosen via the Je-S login page. If you do not have a Je-S account, or have forgotten your password, please contact the Je-S Helpdesk (see below for contact details).

  • Select ‘Documents’ from the left hand menu list from your account home page
  • Select ‘New Document’ from within the Functions/create section of your documents page
  • Select Council: MRC
  • Select Document Type: Standard Proposal
  • Select Scheme: Research Grant
  • Select Call (Optional): Research Boards Month/Month Year Submissions

To indicate that your Je-S proposal form is a ‘Partnership Grant’:

  • Navigate down the list of ‘Document Menu’ items and select the ‘Grant Type’ section
  • Select ‘Partnership Grant’ and then select the ‘Save’ option near the top of the electronic application form.

If you require assistance either accessing Je-S or completing the Je-S application, please contact the Je-S Helpdesk, which is the first point of contact for the Research Councils UK.

The Je-S Helpdesk is staffed Monday to Friday 8.30am - 5pm (excluding bank holidays and other holidays).

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Assessment of applications

Your proposal will be peer reviewed by independent scientific experts from the UK and overseas. More information on peer review at the MRC.

Reviews are based around three core criteria: importance, scientific potential and resources requested. Before applying for a Partnership grant, consider each of the specific criteria below to ensure that your application fully addresses each of these areas. Failure to address any of the criteria sufficiently in your application could result in an early stage rejection.

Importance
  • How important are the objectives the partnership plans to address?
  • Have the applicants demonstrated the partnership format is right for activities they propose and for the scientific field? Will the partnership provide added value to the research?
  • How original is the proposal? Are there similar partnerships in the UK or elsewhere?
  • What impact will this Partnership grant funding have on current or future scientific delivery and on scientific strategy? 
Scientific potential

Research Quality

  • What is the potential of this approach to advance the scientific area?
  • Are the aims and objectives realistic within the timeframe and with the resources proposed?
  • How convincing and coherent is the management strategy proposed?
  • What is the longer-term outlook beyond the funded period of the partnership?
  • Robust methodology and experimental design should be at the centre of any proposal to aid reproducibility of research findings. Has the applicant clearly set out and justified the following:
    • Measures for avoidance of bias (eg blinding, randomisation)
    • Number of experimental and control groups and sample size per group
    • How the sample size was calculated, showing power calculations and including justification of effect size
    • Overview of the planned statistical analyses in relation to the primary outcomes to be assessed
    • Frequency of measurements/interventions to be used
    • Circumstances in which power calculations are not appropriate to determine sample size
  • How well have project risks been identified, and will they be mitigated?

Research Environment and People

  • How will the researchers involved in the partnership deliver the proposed work? Specifically:
    • Are the co-investigators and/or collaborators well chosen?
    • Does the quality and productivity of their recent work suggest that they will be likely to successfully deliver the proposed objectives?
    • What skills and expertise do the Investigators have to promise success in the proposed approaches?
  • Has the partnership environment been well described?
  • How has the host RO(s) demonstrated commitment to supporting the proposed partnership? Examples of what such commitments might involve include reducing or waiving co-investigator salary, associated estates costs and other in-kind contributions
  • Has the host RO(s) demonstrated commitment to supporting the proposed partnership, for example by reducing or waiving co-investigator salary and associated estates costs?
  • If the proposal is for shared equipment or expertise, have the applicants described where this will be sited and how it will be supported by the host RO(s)? Does the management strategy ensure equitable access to any equipment or staff that will be shared between collaborators?
  • Does the partnership provide opportunities for the training and career development of personnel working in the partnership?
  • If the proposal involves a request for studentships:
    • Will the studentships provide a unique training experience which could not be supported by existing MRC studentship support for example Doctoral Training Grant funding?
    • Will the management strategy ensure high standards of supervision, mentoring and support for students?
    • Do all studentships requested meet MRC’s research training objectives and expectations (see RCUK Statement of Expectations for Doctoral Training)?

Impact

  • What is the potential economic and societal impact of the proposed research? Please comment on
    • identification of realistic potential improvements to human or population health
    • contribution to relieving disease/disability burden and/or improving quality of life
    • identification of potential impacts of research and plans to deliver these (in the Pathways to Impact statement)

Ethics

  • Are there any ethical and/or research governance issues? Please comment on:
    • whether the proposed research is ethically acceptable
    • any ethical issues that need separate consideration
    • appropriateness of ethical review and research governance considerations
    • any potential adverse consequences for humans, animals or the environment and whether these risks have been addressed satisfactorily in the proposal.

Data Management Plan

  • Does the data management plan indicate whether the applicants have (or are likely to have) a sound plan for managing the research data funded through the award, taking account:
    • the types, scale and complexity of data being (or to be) managed
    • the likely long-term value for further research including by sharing data
    • the anticipated information security and ethics requirements.
Resources requested 
  • Where the MRC is being asked to fund investigator salaries are the requests in each case reasonable and do they reflect the level of expert input?
  • Do contributions from the host RO(s) or from other sources enhance the value for money of the proposal?

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Case Studies

MRC have provided four Partnership grant case studies exemplars of successful grants.

Case Study 1: Towards a Collaborative Computational Project for Electron cryo-Microscopy (CCP-EM) 

Understanding how cells work is vital to combating disease. Electron cryo-Microscopy (cryo-EM) provides useful information on how molecules in a cell interact with each other and how they are affected by their location. Cryo-EM relies on good software for processing and interpreting experimental data. However, the provision of existing software in this area is patchy and fragmented, making it difficult for scientists to access and use the technology.

To address this issue, a UK partnership of software developers and users is being brought together to establish a Collaborative Computational Project (CCP-EM). Such an initiative for the UK cryo-EM community is completely new. It aims to coordinate scientific efforts among UK groups that are active in the field of cryo-EM, and to support both the users and developers of cryo-EM software. Acting in a partnership will not only lead to the improved provision and use of software within the cryo-EM community, but it will also facilitate new work in this expanding field.

Case Study 2: Childhood Arthritis Response to Treatment consortium (CHART): partnership to define stratified medicine tools for childhood inflammatory arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a rare but serious chronic inflammatory rheumatologic disease. Timely treatment of this disease is essential; however, current drug therapy is based on a “wait and see” method, using a variety of different drugs, one after the other, with no way of predicting a patient’s responsiveness to the treatment.

A new MRC Partnership grant will establish the Childhood Arthritis Response to Treatment consortium (CHART), uniting the UK’s leading investigators in JIA translational research in order to improve understanding of treatment responses in patients suffering with childhood arthritis. Prior to this grant, UK centres studying JIA had no formal mechanism to work together. CHART will enable better evaluation of existing clinical datasets and protocols, analysis and sharing of data within a common platform, and standardisation of datasets, measurements and protocols. Standardisation of data sets and protocols will also enable the maximal recruitment of patients to existing cohorts. The CHART consortium aims to include both international and industry partners in the future and will provide an evidence-base in order to improve treatment choices for sufferers of JIA.

Case Study 3: Partnership to investigate the emergence of MRSA clones in cattle​

Most MRSA strains that have caused human disease over the last 30 years have had human origins, but animal reservoirs of MRSA are beginning to be recognised as a public health hazard. Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently discovered a new MRSA strain (ST425) with a unique gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics, which has been found in both humans and animals.

In a new partnership grant, the team is studying the prevalence of MRSA strains with this gene in humans and animals, and the risk of transmission between species. They will achieve this by bringing together a valuable combination of expertise from veterinary epidemiologists, leading scientists in the area of MRSA and sequencing experts. Critically, these are researchers who normally work independently, but who will need to come together in order to address this unified and strategically important issue. Forming this partnership will boost MRSA research across different species and provide the research power that has been missing from more narrow-focused work in this area.

Case Study 4: Building multi-site clinical research capacity in Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

The non-invasive neuroimaging technique Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is    used to directly investigate neuronal activity in the brain. It has many advantages over other neuroimaging methods including improved time resolution and spatial discrimination, and is a robust technique with which to study brain activity in medical conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. However, the clinical research capacity of MEG is currently underdeveloped in the UK.

This MRC Partnership grant will bring together MEG centres in the UK, in order to develop training programmes and increase critical research mass in the area of MEG.  This multi-centre partnership will consist of academic networking events and stimulation of research collaborations, training schemes and PhD studentships. It will also involve the establishment of standardised protocols, common data analysis approaches, and integration and sharing of data from multiple sites and systems. Setting up this collaborative network will advance the UK's clinical research output and international competitiveness in Magnetoencephalography.

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Contacts

If you have a query about scientific aspects of your proposal please contact the relevant MRC Programme Manager. Contact details can be found on the appropriate Research Board’s remit and scope pages (please see the ‘related content’ section on the top right of this page).

To discuss your eligibility or any other non-scientific queries please contact Research Funding Policy and Delivery: 

Email: RFPD@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk 

Tel: 01793 416440

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