Large grants

2020 closing dates:

  • Outline proposals - opens 2 December 2019, closes 16:00 on 10 March 2020
  • Full proposals - opens 1 July 2020, closes 16:00 on 17 November 2020

They support adventurous, large-scale and complex research tackling big science questions that cannot be addressed through other NERC funding opportunities.

The minimum funding level for large grant proposals is £1·2 million, 100% (full economic cost). The maximum funding level for large grant proposals is £3·7 million, 100% (full economic cost) with a duration of up to five years.


Research funded via the large grant scheme is expected to have the potential to be world-leading. Proposals will often involve multidisciplinary approaches via inter- or intra-institutional collaboration, although this is not a requirement.

Large grants can address any area of science within the NERC remit, including NERC strategic priorities or new curiosity-driven research challenges.

Key points

  • Large grants must tackle big science questions. To achieve this they will often involve multidisciplinary approaches, and are expected to require a number of interdependent work packages interacting in a clearly defined management structure.
  • Large grants provide funding for up to five years.
  • The maximum budget is £3·7 million. This limit is on the total cost (100% full economic cost, including any project studentships and major facility costs such as ship time and aircraft time).
  • Proposals with a more modest budget are also encouraged; the minimum budget is £1·2 million.
  • Proposals to the large grant scheme may use agreements between NERC and other funders such as NSF and FAPESP to help secure funding for international collaborations.
  • Outline proposals must be submitted using the Joint electronic-Submissions system (Je-S) - external link. Please select Document Type - 'Outline Proposal', Scheme - 'NERC Outline' and the appropriate Large Grant Outline Call based on the year of submission. The Large Grant Outline Call will be open for approximately six weeks prior to the closing date.
  • Only invited full proposals based on successful outlines will be accepted.
  • Full proposals must be submitted using the Joint electronic-Submissions system (Je-S) - external link. Please select Document Type - 'Standard Proposal', Scheme - 'Large Grant' and the appropriate large grant call based on the year of submission.
  • Large grant proposals involving multiple research organisations may be submitted as joint proposals and there is no limit on the number of components. NERC will expect the lead institution to act as coordinator.
  • NERC will assess large grant full proposals according to the pre-award assessment criteria. The assessment process includes presentations by applicants at the moderating panel.
  • NERC retains a ring-fenced budget for large grants. This is in addition to the funding available for other discovery science research grant schemes.

Applicants are encouraged (though not required) to contact the NERC office at an early stage to discuss any questions on large grant scheme procedures or seek feedback regarding the most appropriate route for funding the proposed research. The Research Grants Team (email ) acts as the first point of contact for large grant proposals.

Full details of the application procedures for the large grant outline and full proposals are in Section F of the research grants and fellowships handbook.

Outline proposals

Outline proposals will be assessed by the Large Grant Outline Panel, comprising members of the Peer Review College, plus independent experts as needed, against potential excellence and fit to scheme criteria. Up to half of outlines will be rejected at this stage.

Applicants will be informed of the outcome of this process at least four months before the full proposal closing date.

Feedback on unsuccessful outlines and those invited to proceed to the full proposal stage will be available on request.

Full proposals

Full proposals will follow the pre-award assessment process moving directly to external peer review. If a proposal receives consistently low reviewer scores, the NERC office reserves the right to reject the proposal before the PI feedback stage.

Unless this is the case, applicants will have the opportunity to respond to referee comments before consideration by the Large Grants Moderating Panel, who will allocate final scores and rank proposals. The moderating panel will also judge the appropriateness of the scientific challenge for a large grant approach and the strength of the management arrangements.

The moderating panel will be comprised of Peer Review College members, augmented if necessary by relevant experts from outside the college.

For proposals that reach the moderating panel stage, we will invite applicants to make a presentation and answer questions at the Large Grants Moderating Panel to assist the assessment process. NERC will try to provide early notice of an invitation to attend, but applicants should note that the Large Grants Moderating Panel meeting is usually held in March.

Appropriate management is an important component of a successful large grant proposal. For large grants a lead Principal Investigator (PI) or coordinator will be responsible for the overall science and management plans. They will act as the focal point for contact with NERC, with responsibility for bi-annual progress reports.

Coordination costs will be allowable within the grant to cover expenses such as travel and project meetings and project management costs. These costs must be fully articulated and justified in the proposal.

Large grants have greater reporting requirements than standard grants. These are as follows:

  • Bi-annual progress updates by the lead PI on delivery of research against NERC science theme challenges, where appropriate.
  • Annual return of Output & Performance Measures (OPMs) by the PI of the lead and component grants, via Researchfish during the large grants lifetime and for five years post completion.
  • In some cases an interim report may be required together with closer monitoring by relevant NERC staff.