MMU Research and Knowledge Exchange Blog

Funding opportunities, news and guidance from RKE at Manchester Metropolitan University

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Applying for research funding – is it worth it?

Adam Goldberg is Research Development Manager in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham. He runs an excellent blog called ‘Cash for Questions’ in which he shared this interesting and useful article.

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight on 6th March 2018 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Success rates are low and applications are more and more time consuming to write. Is it worth it? Here’s a quick list of considerations that might help you reach a better decision.

While the latest success rates from UK research councils showed a very modest overall improvement after five consecutive annual falls, most observers regard this as a blip rather than as a sign of better times to come. Outside the Research Councils, success rates are often even lower, with some social science/humanities fellowship schemes having single digit success rates.

While success rates have fallen, demands on applicants have steadily risen. The impact agenda has brought first the impact summary and then the pathways to impact statement, and more recently we’ve seen greater emphasis on data management plans and on detailed letters of support from project partners that require significant coordination to obtain. It would be one thing if it were just a question of volume – if you want a six or seven figure sum of what’s ultimately public money, it’s not unreasonable to be asked to work for it. But it’s not just that, it’s also the fiddly nature of using JeS and understanding funder requirements. I’m forever having to explain the difference between the pathways to impact and the impact summary, and there are lots of little quirks and hidden sections that can trip people up.

But beyond even that, there’s the institutional effort of internal peer review from research development staff and senior and very busy academic staff. Whether that’s an internal review mandated by the research council – shifting the burden of review onto institutions – or introduced as a means of improving quality, it’s another cost.

Given the low success rates, the effort and time required, and the opportunity costs of doing so, are we wasting our time? And how would we know?

The research

  • Do you need funding to do the research? If not, might it be a better idea just to get on with it, rather than spend a month writing an application and six months waiting for a response? And if you only need a small amount of funding, consider a smaller scheme with a less onerous application process.
  • Do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve? If you can’t identify some clear research questions, and what your project will deliver, the chances are it needs more thinking through before it’s ready to be turned into an application.
  • Are you and your team passionate and enthused and excited about your proposal? If you’re not, why should anyone else be?
  • Is your research idea competitive? That’s not the same question as ‘is it good’? To quote a research director from a Canadian Research Council – it’s not a test, it’s a contest. Lots and lots and lots of good ideas go unfunded. Just because you could get something in that’s in scope and has at least some text in every box doesn’t mean you should.
  • Is your research idea significant? In other words, does it pass the ‘so what, who cares’ test? My experience on an NIHR funding panel is that once the flawed are eliminated, funding is a battle of significance. Is your research idea significant, would others outside your field regard it as significant, and can you communicate its significance?

Your motivations

  • Are they intrinsic to the research – to do with the research and what you and your team want to discover and achieve and contribute…. or are they extrinsic?
  • Are you applying for funding because you want promotion? When you come and talk to me and my colleagues about ‘applying for funding’ but have less a coherent project and more of a list of random keywords, don’t think we don’t know.
  • Is it because you/your research group/school is being pressured to bring in more funding? Football manager Harry Redknapp’s tactical instructions to a substitute apparently once consisted of “just flipping run around a bit” (I paraphrase) and I sometimes worry that in some parts of some institutions that’s what passes for a grant capture strategy that values activity over outcomes.
  • Is it because you want to keep researchers on fixed term contracts/your promising PhD student in work? That’s a laudable aim, but without the right application and idea, you risk giving them false hope if the application is just to do more of the same with the same people.

Practical considerations

  • Do you have the time you need to write a competitive application? Just as importantly, do your team? Will they be able to deliver on the bits of the application they’ll need to write? As Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try” (Lucas, 1980). If you can’t turn your idea into a really well written, competitive, proposal in time, perhaps don’t.
  • Do you have your ducks in a row? Your collaborators and co-Is, your industry, government, or third sector partners lined up and on board? Are your impact plans ready? Or are you still scratching around for project partners while your competitors are polishing the fourth iteration of the complete application? Who are your rivals for this funding? Not relevant for ‘open’ calls, but for targeting schemes, who else is likely to be going for this?
  • Does what you want to do fit the call you’re considering applying for? Read the call, read it again, and then speak to your friendly neighbourhood Research Development professional and see if your understanding of the call matches hers. Why? Because it’s hard for researchers to read a call for proposals without seeing it through the lens of their own research priorities. Make sure others think it’s a good fit – don’t trust yourself or your co-Is to make that decision alone.
  • Is this the best use of your time right now? Might your time be better spent on impact, publishing papers from the last project, revising a dated module, running professional development courses?

A companion piece on the costs and benefits to researchers of applying for funding will be republished on Cash for Questions next week.

You can find the Cash for Questions blog here:




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ESRC Secondary Data Analysis – changes to eligibility including increase in £ and project duration


As of 17 May 2018, eligibility criteria for the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) will be changing.

Since December 2015, SDAI has operated alongside ESRC’s Research Grants open call. Following ESRC’s internal review of the Initiative, including an analysis of the volume and review outcomes of applications received so far, along with feedback from external stakeholders, it was concluded that changes to the Initiative were needed to improve the quantity and quality of proposals submitted.

As a result, the following changes to the SDAI have been introduced and will apply as of 17 May 2018:

  • The maximum funding threshold for applications will increase from £200,000 (100% fEC) to £300,000 (100% fEC)
  • The maximum duration of proposals will increase from 18 months to 24 months.
  • Previous eligibility criteria to (a) use only one of ESRC-funded data resources and (b) to include at least one named early career researcher as principal investigator or co-investigator have been relaxed.
  • Instead, as of 17 May, the ESRC will welcome proposals that aim to exploit secondary data from a range of UK and international data resources funded by ESRC and by other agencies, given sufficient justification and confirmation.
  • ESRC will continue to encourage applications that include a named early career researcher as principal investigator or co-investigator and/or applications that seek to use one or more ESRC-funded data resources.

These changes to the eligibility criteria will allow applicants greater flexibility when utilising existing UK and international data resources to deliver high-quality and high-impact research. This also provides a huge opportunity for comparative analysis into some of the most pressing challenges facing society in the UK and internationally.

Please see


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EU Falls Festival 2018

EU Falls Festival

The European Union Falls are pleased to announce their EU Falls Festival (EUFF) “New Solutions to Old Problems: ensuring sustainability of falls prevention interventions”, which will be taking place on the 2nd & 3rd July 2018 in Manchester, UK.

It intends to bring together leading researchers, clinicians, health care practitioners and industry from across the globe for discussion and exchange of the most cutting edge knowledge, insights, issues and ideas in relation to technology in the prediction, prevention and detection of falls.

For full details of the event and to register, please visit the website here. 

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BA/Leverhulme Small Grant drop-in session – WED 2nd MAY


RKE are holding a drop-in session on Weds 2nd May, 2-3pmfor anyone considering an application to the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant scheme – deadline 6th June.

We’ll be in GM234 in Geoffrey Manton for that hour, available to answer any quick questions you might have and share some examples of successful applications, so please do come along.

These awards are up to £10,000 in value, tenable for up to 24 months, and are intended to cover the cost of expenses arising from a defined research project in the humanities or social sciences.

(Note: all external grant applications need a full economic costing completing and approved by your Faculty so please do contact your Research Development Manager for assistance).

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University researchers achieve 100% compliance with ResearchFish submission


Manchester Metropolitan University has achieved 100% compliance with its ResearchFish submission for the third year in a row.

Thanks are due to all our researchers who helped us make sure we achieve full compliance with our research submissions. Due to this, the academics’ work will soon be available to view on Gateway to Research. It also means that potential sanctions from late submissions have been avoided.

ResearchFish is an online survey that collects research outcomes. Funders use the tool to track the impacts of their investments, and academics use it to log outputs arising from funded research.

Over 100 funders, including the seven UK Research Councils, currently use ResearchFish collecting submissions from universities across the country.

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NIHR Research for Patient Benefit Social Care Research Information Sessions

NIHRThe National Institute for Research (NIHR) have announced information sessions to support the latest Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme social care call. These will be ran by the Research Design Service (RDS) and will include presentations from RfPB and the RDS on the scope of the call and and the support available. The events will also include an opportunity for researchers to discuss their ideas with members of the RfPB programme team and the RDS. The places are free but the number of places available are limited.

The events are taking place on:


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ESRC Large Grants Competition: Expression of Interest

Expressions of Interest should be submitted to Becky Hewlett by Tuesday 8th May 2018.

ESRC have just announced the Large Grants competition is open for applications. Given that we are allowed to submit only one proposal per institution, we would like to run an internal Expression of Interest.

Applications will be reviewed based on how well proposals meet the following objectives:

  • Undertake a programme of ambitious research
  • Demonstrate strong commitment to career development of researchers
  • Make significant contributions to scientific, economic or social impact
  • Involve potential users of research
  • Take advantage of international collaborative and/or comparative opportunities

ESRC welcome proposals for standard research projects, large-scale surveys, infrastructure projects and methodological development.

Proposals should be around £1M – £2.5M for a period of 3-5 years at 80% fEC.

The ESRC timeline is as:

  • Outline proposals should be submitted 16:00 14 JUN 18
  • Shortlisted applications to submit full proposals by NOV 18
  • Funding decision to be made MAY 19
  • Funding to commence 01 OCT 19

If you would like to submit an Expression of Interest, please discuss your idea and intentions with your Research Centre Head or Faculty Head of RKE.

Expression of Interest template – ESRC Large Grant EOI_Template

Funding call specifications – Large Grants 2018 – call specification