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Funding

Programme grant

What is a programme grant?

Programme grants provide larger, longer term (five years) and renewable programme funding. They aim to help the medical science community to ‘think bigger’. A programme is defined as a coordinated and coherent group of related projects, which may be developed to address an inter-related set of questions across a broad scientific area.

The expectation is that not all the questions will necessarily be answered within the tenure of the award. Parts of the programme may well be a continuation of current activity; however, other elements should be innovative and ambitious.

Programmes are a substantial investment for the MRC so due consideration to MRC strategy should also be evident.

Who can apply?

Any UK-based researcher who can demonstrate that they will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in carrying it through can apply.

The minimum academic qualification required is a graduate degree, although usually a PhD is expected. For programme grants the Principal Investigator should have a substantial record of successfully securing research funding and delivering high quality research.

Programme grants will usually (though not always) be based within an academic institution which has the variety of expertise and disciplines to undertake the programme.

MRC Units and University Units are not eligible to apply.

Financial support

Under the Programme Grant scheme you may request support for a period of five years, which can include:

  • A portion of the salaries of the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigators (Co-Investigators are permissible)
  • Additional posts (research and technical)
  • Consumables
  • Equipment
  • Travel costs
  • Data preservation, data sharing and dissemination costs

Following standard practice, the MRC will fund on the basis of 80 per cent of the full economic cost of your research to your institution. Your proposal must show 100 per cent of the full economic cost throughout. Please note guidance on funding for capital equipment in the applicants handbook.

Please note that costs for PhD studentships cannot be requested within MRC research or programme grants. 

How to apply

The standard for programme grants is extremely competitive and it is important that applicants discuss their proposals with appropriate staff at MRC Head Office.

You must contact the Programme Manager of the relevant MRC Research Board to confirm whether your application fits the scheme - this mandatory step, applies to all new Programme Grant applications (not renewals) and must be completed at least 6 weeks before the submission deadline. 

Please note that outline applications are no longer necessary.

New applications should include a cover letter that confirms the name of the Programme Manager that agreed that an application could be submitted; for renewals the cover letter should confirm the details of the original award.

When contacting the Programme Manager we ask that you send the following by email:

  • Case: max. 2 pages
  • Resources: please provide a high level indication of the likely cost to the MRC
  • CV for lead and co-investigators: max. 2 pages, plus 1 page for key publications

Case

Applicants are required to submit a case containing a brief description of their proposal. This must consist of no more than two pages, plus 1 page of references.

Please include:

  • The title of potential MRC programme
  • A list of the PI and co-PIs and their affiliations
  • A list of collaborators – if known at this stage

The case at this stage should address each question in section 1 of the assessment criteria (below).

The MRC does not expect the initial case to contain detailed research proposals, however this scheme does require that the applicant states clearly the aims of the proposal.

CVs

Applicants should attach a CV containing key publications. In addition they should also attach a succinct summary of funding history. Attention will be paid to the PI’s track record of research and potential to successfully manage and deliver a major research programme.

Please read the MRC guidance for applicants and especially the Programme Grants annex (PDF 128KB); this will guide you through the criteria that the proposed programme must meet and application process.

Please also ensure you read the terms and conditions concerning MRC grants.

Assessment criteria

Before applying for a Programme Grant, consider each of the specific criteria below to ensure that your application fully addresses each of these areas. Consider whether you, your co-applicants and your research environment fulfil the required criteria before deciding to apply.

Please note that failure to address any of the criteria sufficiently in your application could result in an early stage rejection.

Suitability for a programme grant, strategic fit and case for a major investment

  • Is the proposed work a “programme” – ie a coordinated and coherent group of related projects which may be to answer an inter­related set of questions on a broad format?
  • Does the work require long term and extensive support?
  • Is the proposed work in an area of high strategic priority for a large investment MRC?
  • Is there a case for a major investment in the context of the Board portfolio and budget?
  • From the applicant’s track record of research, do they have the potential to successfully manage and deliver a major research programme?

Summary of assessment

  • Overall, what is the quality of the proposal?
  • How significant is the proposed programme in terms of its potential impact?
  • To what extent will it extend the base of knowledge relevant to improving human health?

Detail of the proposed programme

  • Is it important to pursue this topic now?
  • Is the proposal realistic in its timeframes and proposed resources?
  • How convincing and coherent is the overall proposed approach?
  • How original or innovative are the proposals?
  • Has the work already been done or is it being done elsewhere?
  • How good is the prospect for significant scientific advance?

People

  • What is the track record and standing in the field of the named applicants?
  • How appropriate is the expertise of the applicants to the proposed work?
  • Is the applicants’ stated time commitment to the work appropriate and sufficient?
  • Where MRC is being asked to fund personal salaries, are the requests in each case reasonable?

Environment

  • Is the proposed environment(s) suitable and does it have the variety of expertise and disciplines to support a programme?
  • Has the host institution(s) demonstrated a clear commitment to the proposed programme for the duration of the grant?
  • Are any collaborators well chosen?
  • Does the environment provide appropriate opportunities for training and career development of personnel supported on the grant?
  • Are there any dependencies on other organisations or funding of which MRC should be made aware?

Value for money

  • Does the proposal represent good value for money in respect of the resources being requested from the MRC?
  • Are the proposed resources fully justified in terms of the science proposed?
  • Will the expected benefits of the research justify its cost to the MRC?

Ethical and other implications

  • Is the work ethically acceptable?
  • Where applicable, is the use of animals appropriate and in line with MRC guidelines?
  • Where applicable, is the use of human participants or human tissue appropriate and in line with MRC guidelines?
  • Are there any other implications which could put the MRC Council, participants in the research, or the applicants at risk?
  • Are there any risks which MRC should take into account when deciding whether to fund this research?

External communications and commercial exploitation

  • Are the proposed arrangements for the public understanding of this work appropriate and sufficient?
  • Are the proposed plans for disseminating the results of the research appropriate and adequate?
  • Are the proposed arrangements for the commercial development of any intellectual property arising from the research appropriate and adequate?

Applicants will also need to comply with MRC guidance on data management stated in the applicants handbook

Deadlines

Your full proposal must be submitted through the MRC Je-S system by 4pm on the relevant Research Board's deadline date.

The assessment procedure

The Programme Grant application will be judged on the need to pursue the proposed research using a programmatic approach, the strategic fit it provides to MRC strategy, and the financial aspects of the grant. Your proposal will be peer-reviewed by independent scientific experts and specialist referees in the UK and overseas.

This peer review helps inform the MRC research Boards decisions.

You will receive anonymous copies of the reviewers’ assessments of your full proposal. If your proposal is shortlisted for discussion at the Board meeting, you will have the opportunity to respond to the reviewers’ comments before your proposal is considered by the relevant research Board.

You will also receive feedback on the Board’s final decision.

The research Boards use similar criteria to those of the referees and will also identify any ethical issues or risks to human participants that need further attention.

Please note that applicants must not lobby MRC staff, referees, or members of peer review panels and boards, nor submit additional information in support of an application after the original submission date. To do so may result in the application being rejected by the MRC.

Frequently Asked Questions

For questions and answers on this call regarding application process, submission and grant renewals please see the web page Programme grants – frequently asked questions.

Contacts and guidance

To discuss your eligibility for a programme grant, or if you have other non-scientific queries please email:

Research Funding Policy and Delivery: RFPD@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

If you have a query about scientific aspects of your proposal, please contact the relevant MRC Programme Manager on the Research Boards contacts page.