Strategic equipment - EPSRC

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.

Find out how strategic equipment fits into EPSRC’s approach to equipment funding.

Strategic equipment encompasses a very wide range of equipment. However, all requests should include the following details:

  • cost
  • appropriate use
  • appropriate strategy.

Information to provide in the request

Cost

The cost of the requested item of equipment must meet the minimum threshold of £400,000. The threshold can be met by a single item of equipment or by several items that are clearly intended to be combined in a single asset. The threshold cannot be met by the accumulated total of a number of individual items of standalone equipment.

There is no maximum limit to a strategic equipment bid, however applicants considering a submission with a high overall cost (of more than £3 million) are advised to consult EPSRC in advance, which will help us in our overall budget planning.

Appropriate use

EPSRC wishes to encourage a culture of sharing with regards to items of strategic equipment in order to gain appropriate maximum usage.

Items requested must be multi-user in nature and access could be shared across an institution, either regionally or nationally. The applicant should discuss why the access model presented is the most appropriate for the equipment and the anticipated current and future use base.

Strategic equipment is not a route for project specific equipment or for items for the sole use of a single research group.

Appropriate strategy

Applicants must articulate a good strategic case for the item requested and make it clear to whom the equipment is strategic to, ranging from research group to international.

There are a number of reasons why an item of equipment could be strategic. These include (but are not limited to):

  • the equipment would enable transformative research of high importance to EPSRC and the UK
  • the equipment would enable the whole of the UK to remain or become world-leading as a result of the research enabled
  • the equipment would enhance capacity and capability at the host institution enabling it to retain a competitive edge in areas of research that are a high priority for the university
  • the equipment will accelerate the careers of a critical mass of early career researchers and/or research technical professionals.

The strategic staircase

EPSRC equipment strategic staircase chart

The differing levels of strategic importance of EPSRC equipment funding routes

The strategic staircase is a way of linking:

  • strategic importance
  • the scale of the equipment use
  • EPSRC’s equipment funding options.

Strategic importance is about how the equipment enhances UK scientific capability and supports high quality research important to EPSRC.

There are different levels of strategic importance that all have a place in the EPSRC portfolio.

Strategic importance level 1

Scale: research group
Funding option: equipment on grants funding

Strategic importance level 2

Scale: local

Funding options:

  • core equipment
  • local or regional strategic equipment.

Strategic importance level 3

Scale: regional

Funding options:

  • core equipment
  • local or regional strategic equipment.

Strategic importance level 4

Scale: EPSRC, community or national
Funding option: national strategic equipment

Strategic importance level 5

Scale: international
Funding options:

  • national research facilities
  • UKRI infrastructure fund.

Hypothetical examples of strategic equipment

Example 1

A state-of-the-art instrument which would be the first of its kind in the UK has been requested by a university. The unique capability would enable transformative research across several fields of research and a number of groups across the UK.

The host recognises that other institutions would want to access the novel equipment so 40% of instrument time would be open access with external steering committee members prioritising requests for access.

Example 2

A university requests a standard specification NMR instrument along with a high specification probe. The instrument will support a wide range of researchers across the university who all require access to the novel probe and will utilise the instrument fully.

The research enabled by the enhanced capability of the instrument aligns with the university’s strategic priorities and will allow it to boost its national (and potentially international) competitiveness in these areas.

The new instrument will also enhance capacity, allowing increased access for a cohort of researchers, accelerating their research. Any spare capacity will be advertised to external users across the region and to industry.

Example 3

A university requests a very high specification mass spectrometer that would be unique to the UK. The university specialises in mass spectrometry and therefore the instrument would support a large number of groups internally, with a large portfolio of existing research grants.

The instrument has the potential to transform the field of research and/or will allow the university to retain its world-leading edge in the area.

The university recognises that the unique instrument will be of interest to other institutions and therefore will reserve a percentage of time on the equipment for external users and have a proactive plan for attracting such users.

Example 4

A university has recently recruited a number of early career researchers (ECR) in areas of research that are a strategic strength for the institution. The university requested an item of equipment that would drive forward the ECRs’ research and careers enabling the academics to establish themselves as competitive researchers, as well as strengthening the position of the university in an important area.

Process overview

Outline stage

A two-page outline proposal can be submitted to EPSRC at any time through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. The outline proposals are batched and then assessed against the published assessment criteria by the internal EPSRC outline panel. The outline panel meets about three times a year.

EPSRC either invites a full proposal as a separate proposal through Je-S or does not invite a full proposal. Successful applicants will have at least seven weeks to prepare their application.

Full proposal stage

Full proposals are assessed by a postal peer review stage. Unsupportive reviews may lead to the proposal being rejected prior to the panel. If supportive reviews are received these are shared with the applicant and the applicant can provide a two-page Principal Investigator (PI) response.

Interview stage

Interviews with the external strategic equipment panel are held up to three times a year. The strategic equipment panel provides a rank-ordered list based on the published assessment criteria and advises on whether the equipment should be funded.

The process from submission of an outline through to a decision on a full application takes approximately eight to nine months.

Process in detail

Duration

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 both:

  • the development of methods, protocols and access models
  • a small amount of time for pump-priming projects to maximise usage of the equipment.

The duration should not include time for research projects.

What can be applied for

Capital costs

Applicants can request capital funding for items of equipment over £400,000 (including VAT) as well as funds for items of equipment under £400,000 that are essential to the running of the larger item of equipment.

Up to 100% full economic cost of the funding for the equipment can be requested, however contributions from the host organisation are welcome (see university contributions section).

Non-capital costs

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% full economic cost. 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 we wish our funded equipment to be utilised to its maximum and 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 not eligible for funding

Costs associated with the support of individual research projects, such as principal investigator (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.

University contributions

It is for the university to consider what an appropriate contribution towards the grant is. Contributions can come in many forms and include (but are not limited to):

  • a direct contribution towards the equipment
  • in-kind investigator time
  • funding a research technical professional
  • contributing refurbishment costs.

The nature of the contribution should reflect the strategic importance of the equipment to the host organisation. Relevant factors may include:

  • whether the equipment contributes a unique capability to the UK landscape
  • it provides essential additional capacity for the UK
  • the balance of usage at the departmental, regional or UK level.

Outline stage

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 (Je-S) system. Submit before 4pm on the deadline specified. 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 in the contacts section of this 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.

Outline business case

The format of the business cases should conform to standard EPSRC rules on format. Note that no additional documents or letters of support will be considered at this stage. Ensure that the assessment criteria for the scheme are addressed within the two page outline.

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

1. Name of the principal investigator (PI).
2. Name of the host institution.
3. Item or items

Name and specific model (if relevant) of the item of equipment.

4. 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.

5. Description

Very briefly describe the item of equipment and its primary functions. 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 or vendor.

Fundamental changes to the business case should not be made between the draft and full business cases.

6. Cost

Set out the expected cost of the items of equipment in pounds sterling (including VAT) and list any associated maintenance or support costs.

In order to assist EPSRC’s financial planning, state clearly the anticipated funds that would be requested from EPSRC (that is, the cost after the deduction of any contributions). Make a clear distinction between cost of equipment items and the cost of any associated resources. 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 + or -10% of the draft business case.

7. 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 or collaborate with key groups or shared facilities in your research area.

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.

8. Support

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.

9. Strategic case

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 and 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, explain how this item will deliver against the recommendations within the roadmap.

10. Ensuring maximum value

Explain how the requested equipment will fit with other items of equipment, infrastructure and people support already at your university. Indicate how the requested items fit the strategy of your department and institution.

11. Contribution from other sources

Describe 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.

12. Alternatives

In the case that the proposal for equipment is not supported, describe the alternative options for using existing equipment of different specifications or at other locations.

Outline assessment process and criteria

An internal EPSRC sift process will be used to decide the items of equipment that EPSRC will invite to submit full equipment cases. The outline panel will be comprised of EPSRC staff only.

The primary assessment criteria at the outline stage are:

The secondary assessment criteria at the outline stage are:

  • potential usage – is there evidence of a strong demand and is the host institution appropriate?
  • management of access to equipment – what plans are in place to ensure usage will be maximised and appropriately regulated?
  • resources – are the resources requested from EPSRC justified?

This process is not subject to the repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.

How to apply to the outline stage

There are no closing dates for the outline stage of the Strategic Equipment process. We will batch outlines and hold panel meetings up to three times a year.

Outline proposals can be submitted at any time 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’
  • ‘Equipment Business Case Outline’ call on the project details page.

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.

Things to consider when writing your outline business case

Remember that the outline panel is made up of EPSRC staff only and the business case should be pitched to this audience.

EPSRC remit

As this is an EPSRC scheme which is not covered by the Cross Council Remit Agreement, the majority of the research (over 50% of the research) has to be within EPSRC remit.

If you are not sure about remit, please contact us. A list of contacts can be found in the contacts section of this page.

Business case focus

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 and outcomes the equipment aligns to, but neglect to state how the equipment will take the strategies in these areas forwards. Do not 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, for example in terms of internal or external usage, academic or industry. 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.

Users of equipment

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.

Need for the equipment

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?

Equipment location

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?

Alternative plan

It’s not constructive to just state that there is no alternative plan. Indicate what the alternative plan is. What will we lose out on if the request is not supported?

Full proposal stage

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 proposal assessment process

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 principal investigator (PI) response. Those proposals without supportive reviews will be rejected at this stage.

Full proposal assessment criteria

The assessment criteria for both the full proposal and the interview stage.

Primary

Quality and breadth of research to be enabled. Assessors will be asked to comment on:

  • 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.

Secondary major

Strategic importance at both an institutional and national level. Assessors will be asked to comment on:

  • how the equipment sought meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique and/or world-leading activity
  • how the equipment sought complements and enhances regional and/or national research capability, including relationships to the ESPRC equipment and research portfolio
  • the appropriateness of the evidence of strong demand and community need from a diverse and inclusive user base
  • appropriateness of the proposed alternative approaches to how the research would be achieved should the equipment not be funded.

Sustainability

Assessors will be asked to comment on how realistic the plans are for the:

  • 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 specialist technical staff beyond the grant period
  • the extent to which sustaining and evolving a diverse and inclusive user base beyond the lifetime of the grant and any ‘free at the point of access’ period is demonstrated.

Secondary

Applicant and host institution

Assessors will be asked to comment on the applicant’s ability to effectively operate the requested equipment making reference to:

  • the appropriateness of the track record of the applicant or applicants
  • the balance of skills of the team, including collaborators
  • why the host institution provides the most appropriate location and how use of existing inventory is effectively complemented.
Management of the equipment

Assessors will be asked to comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management, making reference to:

  • the work plan and associated risks
  • plans for prioritising access and maximising usage of the equipment
  • data management and accessibility.
Resources

Assessors will be asked to comment on:

  • the appropriateness and justification of costs for the equipment
  • the appropriateness and justification of resource costs (for example staff and maintenance)
  • the appropriateness of any contributions from the host and any collaborators
  • how any resources requested for activities to expand the user base, increase impact, for public engagement or support responsible innovation.

The full business case is not subject to the repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.

All aspects of the assessment criteria will be probed at the interview stage and the Strategic Equipment Interview Panel will prioritise applications for funding according to these criteria.

Find out more about assessment criteria and the guidance given to reviewers.

Overview of submission documents we require for full proposals

The documentation required for the full strategic equipment scheme has differences to a standard proposal.

We require the following documentation.

Case for support

Maximum length is eight sides of A4.

The case for support should expand on the information already provided in the two-page business case and should address each of the following headings:

  • track record (up to 1.5 sides of A4)
  • description of the equipment
  • research enabled
  • strategic importance, including institutional strategy for capital investment and alternatives
  • sustainability (up to 1.5 sides of A4)
  • management of the equipment
  • resources and host institution contribution.

Business case

Maximum length is two sides of A4.

Supply an updated version of the outline business case.

Justification of resources

Maximum length is two sides of A4.

Supply 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

Maximum length is one side of A4.

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

There is no page limit.

Include 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

There is no page limit.

Include 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

There is no page limit.

Supply a letter from the appropriate authority at the host institution confirming and clearly detailing the university contribution (upload it as “Additional Document”).

Equipment quotations

There is no page limit.

We require a minimum of three written quotes for items of equipment over £138,000. We require a minimum of three verbally obtained quotes for items of equipment costing between £25,000 and £138,000. Detail this in the justification of resources.

Summary of equipment quotes

Maximum length is one side of A4.

Supply one page summarising all the written and verbally obtained quotes 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.

Interview stage

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. Teleconferencing and video conferencing 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.

We suggest 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, or a user from a different institution or department
  • research facility manager or research technical professional – to discuss access to equipment and maximising usage of it.

This 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 assessment criteria will be probed at the interview stage and the Strategic Equipment Interview Panel will prioritise applications for funding according to these criteria.

Contacts

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

Email: epsrcequipmentfunding@epsrc.ukri.org

Research infrastructure

Tony Chapman
Email: antony.chapman@epsrc.ukri.org
Claire Higlett
Email: claire.higlett@epsrc.ukri.org

Physical sciences

Bharat Pokhrel
Email: bharat.pokhrel@epsrc.ukri.org

Information and communication technologies (ICT)

Maryam Crabbe-Mann
Email: maryam.crabbe-mann@epsrc.ukri.org

Engineering

Maria Calderon Munoz

Email: maria.calderonmunoz@epsrc.ukri.org

Healthcare technologies

Kate Reading
Email: kate.reading@epsrc.ukri.org

Manufacturing

Tochukwu Ajare
Email: tochukwu.ajare@epsrc.ukri.org

Energy

Email: energy@epsrc.ukri.org

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