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Research grant eligibility

Funding eligibility criteria vary depending on the applicant's role in the proposed research.

View information about UK Higher Education Institution and research organisation eligibility.

Principal Investigator

The Principal Investigator on the proposal must reside in the UK and be employed by an eligible UK Research Organisation (Higher Education Institution, research council institute or a recognised independent research organisation). Employment should be at lecturer (or equivalent) level or above.

NERC staff at Band 6 level and above are eligible to apply as Principal Investigators. NERC staff at Band 6 must have at least three years' postdoctoral research experience and have been employed by NERC for at least a year. Staff at BBSRC research organisations, at Band E level or above, are also eligible to apply as a Principal Investigator.

Holders of research fellowships from the research councils and university research fellowships from the Royal Society are eligible (subject to other rules in the research grants and fellowships handbook).

Holders of other fellowships awarded by the Royal Society, as well as those from the Wellcome Trust, Marie Curie fellowships, Leverhulme Early Careers Fellowships and fellowships awarded by eligible UK Higher Education Institutions, are also eligible to apply as Principal Investigators, as long as the fellowship has a status equating to that of at least lecturer level and has been secured in open competition. A statement from departmental heads confirming that these conditions are met should accompany any proposal submitted.

At the time of application the Principal Investigator must:

  • Be employed by the Research Organisation submitting the proposal or, if not employed, have an existing formal arrangement with the organisation that enables him or her to carry out research there and receive all necessary management and infrastructure support from the organisation.
  • Or be scheduled to move to the submitting organisation before the proposed start date of the grant in such a way that would ensure that the criterion stated above is met by the time the grant starts. Proposals should include a confirming statement from the employing Research Organisation where the grant is to be held.
  • In addition, the Principal Investigator must have an assurance from the submitting organisation that, if the proposal is successful, the contract of employment, or formal commitment to provide support if not employed, will extend beyond the end date of the grant. Confirmation of this assurance from departmental heads should accompany any grant proposal.

    The exception to this is research council fellows whose award does not extend beyond the proposed end date of the grant. In such cases, research council fellows may apply for the cost of their salary to the end of the proposal.

The following are not eligible to apply as Principal Investigators: research assistants; technicians; other researchers who are employed on short-term projects or research council grants; and holders of fellowships that were not awarded following open competition.

It is incumbent upon individuals to check their own eligibility before submitting any proposal to NERC.

Where the Principal or Co-Investigator is retired (or will retire before the end of the grant), or holds a senior non-stipendiary post, the expectation is that their involvement in a project would be covered by a contract with the Research Organisation, as detailed above. Such costs are likely to be a Directly Incurred cost.


Co-Investigators are normally expected to meet the eligibility criteria for a Principal Investigator and should be able to take over from the Principal Investigator if required.

New Investigator

An applicant for the New Investigators' scheme must be eligible to apply as a Principal Investigator, but, in addition, eligibility is restricted to those investigators at the outset of their independent scientific career. Applicants must therefore be within three years of first becoming eligible for NERC funding as a Principal Investigator (account will be taken of any career breaks) and must not have received research funding from any source, as a Principal Investigator, that included post-doctoral research assistant staff support costs.

An exception to the three-year rule applies to holders of NERC fellowships, who will continue to be eligible to apply for New Investigator grants during the period of their fellowship, until they have received research funding as a Principal Investigator. This scheme is not intended to support those whose independent research career is already established, so those in senior positions may not apply.

Research Co-Investigator

A Post-doctoral Research Assistant (PDRA) who is not eligible to be a Principal or Co-Investigator, but has made a substantial contribution to formulating and developing the proposal and will be closely involved with the project (if funded) may be identified as a Researcher Co-Investigator.

A Researcher Co-Investigator must be:

  • the named researcher on the project and seek his/her salary as a Directly Incurred cost;
  • employed by the same Research Organisation as either the Principal or one of the Co-Investigators;
  • employed at Band 6 or (NERC) or Band D (BBSRC) or higher if applying from a NERC or BBSRC Research Organisation.

A Researcher Co-Investigator may not take over from the Principal Investigator.

Full details of the eligibility criteria for both individual applicants and research organisations, can be found in the research grants and fellowships handbook.