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.

FAQ: Can I apply for a five year research grant or indeed a Programme grant that is less than five years in duration?
A: It is expected that Programme grants will be five years in duration. In exceptional cases, Programme grants may be awarded for less than five years and, indeed, research grants for longer than four years.

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Who can apply?

We will consider proposals for Programme grants from any researcher who can demonstrate they will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in carrying it through. By the time the grant starts, the Principal Investigator (PI) must be based in the UK at the eligible research organisation at which the grant will be administered (the lead organisation). The PI must have a verified joint electronic-submission system (Je-S) account to apply.

The minimum formal qualification required is a graduate degree, though most applicants are also expected to have a PhD. For Programme grants the PI 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 are not eligible to apply. Core supported programme/group leaders from University Units and the Francis Crick Institute may only apply in exceptional circumstances with prior agreement from MRC Head Office. 

FAQ: Can a Principal Investigator hold more than one Programme grant at a time?
A: Only in exceptional circumstances. We would not normally expect anyone to be the PI on more than one MRC Programme grant, this includes programme leaders at MRC units, university units and institutes.
FAQ: Can my application include an industry partner(s)?
A: Yes, the MRC recognises the value that such partnerships can bring. For more information please refer to our guidance on MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement (MICA).
FAQ: As Principal Investigator I am planning to submit an application for a Programme grant but I am due to retire during the tenure of the grant. What do I need to do?
A: Where a PI is due to retire before the grant has ended the grant must also include details of a replacement for the remaining period and costs included for them for the required period. For more information please refer to section 3.1.1.1 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

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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
  • 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 equipment in section 3.1.1.3 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

Costs for PhD studentships cannot be requested within MRC Programme grants.  Please refer to our pages on studentships for further information.

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How to apply

Pre-Application Stage

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

Outline applications are no longer necessary but 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 and must be completed at least 6 weeks before the submission deadline. 

Please select the appropriate Board to navigate to the correct remit and scope page:

When contacting the Programme Manager we ask that you send a case containing a brief description of the proposal by email. The case should be a maximum 2 pages, plus 1 page of references, and include:

−    The title of potential MRC programme

−    A list of the PI and Co-Is and their affiliations

−    A list of collaborators (if known at this stage)

−    A high level indication of the likely cost to the MRC

At this stage the case should address the following questions on 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 MRC area of high strategic priority?
  • 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?

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.

Applicants should also attach a CV containing key publications for the PI and Co-Is (maximum 2 pages, plus 1 page for key publications). In addition they should also attach a succinct summary of the PI’s 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.

Applicants wishing to renew their Programme grant should contact the Programme Manager of the relevant MRC research board during year 4 of the programme to discuss this further (see below for more information on renewing Programme grants).

Full Application Stage (new applications and renewals)

Applicants invited to complete a full application via Je-S will be notified in advance of the relevant research board deadline. New applications should include a cover letter that confirms the name of the Programme Manager who agreed that an application could be submitted; for renewals the cover letter should confirm the details of the original award.

Applicants should read section 2 of the MRC guidance for applicants for information on how to complete the proposal form. If the Programme 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 table below list specific points that should be addressed when writing the case for support for Programme grants but should be read in conjunction with the general guidance in section 2.4 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

This guidance should also be read in conjunction with the information on the assessment criteria (see below), which provides detailed information on what reviewers and research boards are looking for. 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 Programme grant applications should consist of no more than 12 pages, including references, and should be completed in Arial 11 pt typescript with a 2cm margin on all sides.

Title The title of potential MRC programme
Importance
  • State the aims of the programme
  • Justification as to why the elements of support requested cannot be met through other means
  • Explain why establishing a programme is appropriate in this scientific area
  • Explain how establishing a programme will facilitate the work of the applicants, in order to increase productivity and create added value
  • Indicate the significance of the programme for this area(s) of research
  • Explain how a programme will improve the UK’s international standing in this area

Scientific potential

  • Participants in the programme and existing funding
    • Brief report on the progress of participants’ recent research, including any preliminary data relevant to the programme
    • Scale of support provided (not in detail eg number of post-docs and/or technicians supported together with the total amount of consumables and equipment provided over the course of the grant will suffice)
  • Environment
    • Describe the environment(s) in which the programme will take place
    • If the proposal is for shared equipment or expertise, describe where this will be sited and how it will be supported by the host research organisation(s). Also describe the management arrangements for ensuring equity of access.
    • Describe the host research organisation(s) support for the programme
  • Research Plans
    • Give details of the general experimental approaches, study designs, and techniques that will be used. It is not necessary to describe each experiment, but give enough detail to show why the research is likely to be competitive in its field. For example:
    • Highlight plans which are particularly original or unique
    • Describe all foreseeable human studies and animal experiments (in as much detail as possible at this stage)
    • Explain in greater detail how new techniques, or particularly difficult or risky studies, will be tackled, and alternative approaches should these fail
    • Identify facilities or resources you will need to access
    • Give sufficient detail to justify the resources requested
  • Explain opportunities or plans for pursuing commercial exploitation
Ethics and research governance Please follow the guidance in section 2.4.3 of the MRC guidance for applicants (case for support content)
Exploitation and dissemination Please follow the guidance in section 2.4.3 of the MRC guidance for applicants (case for support content)
Management Provide a simple explanation of how the programme will be managed

Programme Grant renewals: additional requirements

Renewal applications must be accompanied with a progress report. This report should be structured using a defined set of headings and completed in Arial 11 pt typescript with a 2cm margin on all sides.

Headings:

  • Title
  • Summary (not exceeding 250 words)
  • Progress (no more than five pages)
    • Describe progress made against original aims and objectives since the grant was awarded/since the last report
    • Please note any unpublished data must be included in the case for support
  • Publications
    • Include a list of publications resulting from the work carried out during the tenure of the grant with web links to those papers if available
    • The office can alert referees/board & panel members to papers in press/accepted that cannot be accessed. These can be lodged with the office and provided on request.
    • Papers recently submitted for publication are not allowed as these represent non-peer reviewed and essentially preliminary data
  • Staff
    • List of staff employed on the grant during its present tenure

Please attach a PDF file of the progress report to your Je-S application as a ‘Final/Interim Report’ type of attachment.

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Creating the application form on Je-S

The guidance below on creating a Programme 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 ‘Programme 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.

Email: JeSHelp@rcuk.ac.uk

Phone: +44 (0) 1793 44 4164

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 can be found on the peer review page.

Reviews are based around three core criteria: importance, scientific potential and resources requested. 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.

Failure to address any of the criteria sufficiently in your application could result in an early stage rejection.

Importance
  • How important are the research questions, or gaps in knowledge, that would be addressed?
  • Is the proposed work a “programme”, ie a coordinated and coherent group of related projects to answer an inter-related set of questions?
  • Does the work require long-term and extensive support?
Scientific potential

Research Quality

  • What are the prospects for good scientific progress?
  • How convincing and coherent is the management strategy proposed?
  • 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

  • From the applicant’s track record of research, do they have the potential to successfully manage and deliver a major research programme?
  • 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 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 the MRC should be made aware?

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.

MRC Industrial Collaboration Awards (MICA)

Any research proposal involving a collaboration with one or more industrial partners (contributing either in cash or in kind) is handled by MRC as a MICA. All MICA proposals will be identifiable to reviewers as they will have the word ‘MICA’ at the start of the project title.

  • If the proposal has been identified as a MICA, it will also need to convince the relevant research board or funding panel that:
    • the planned research could or would not be undertaken in the absence of the requested funding, or that it could not be undertaken to the quality level or timescale proposed
    • the collaboration or partnership is consistent with the aims and delivery of the project and MRC funding rules and requirements for academic-industry collaborations  
    • potential conflicts of interest between the parties are acceptable and are being, or would be, appropriately managed
Resources requested 
  • Are the funds requested essential for the work and justified by the importance and scientific potential of the research?
  • Is the applicants’ stated time commitment to the work appropriate and sufficient?
  • Where the MRC is being asked to fund investigator salaries, are the requests in each case reasonable?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate value for money in terms of the resources requested?
  • Is any animal use fully justified in terms of need, species, number, conformance to guidelines?

 

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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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