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Funding

Partnership grant

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What is a partnership grant?

The partnership grant scheme is designed to support novel partnerships between diverse groupings of researchers. Funding will be provided to establish new, high-value collaborative activities/capabilities that should add value to high-quality scientific programmes that are already supported by grants from the MRC and other funders. It is not designed to fund stand-alone, hypothesis-driven research projects, which may otherwise be eligible for MRC research or programme grant type funding.

Collaborative activities can include:

  • networking and partnership activities
    • establishing multidisciplinary collaborative partnerships or consortia
    • fostering/enabling a national/international strategy across the field
    • enabling knowledge sharing or creation across institutions
  • infrastructure support for establishing a unique shared resource or helping to exploit it, for example staff, systems, equipment, seminars, workshops. This could include a co-ordinated set of needs-led and complementary networking activities (including outreach work and travel) with a defined output
  • platform activities such as specialist data and software platforms or resources
  • training, career development and capacity building in strategically important areas (excluding fellowships but including PhD studentships, see details on ‘Studentships’ below)
  • funds to support small scale, pump-priming projects may be considered but specific research questions should not be the focus of the partnership. These projects should be interdisciplinary, high risk/gain projects which will demonstrate the novel capability of a new partnership.

Typically, successful partnership grants include a combination of these components. Applications for funding to support only networking activities will be rejected. Please refer to the partnership grant case studies as exemplars of successful grants.

Partnership grants are expected to reach maturity by the end of the initial award, with any follow-on activities supported through alternative mechanisms.

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Who can apply?

The partnership must be led by a principal investigator (PI) based at a research organisation (RO) that is eligible to apply in response mode. Please see section 1 of the MRC guidance for applicants for information on eligibility.

The PI must demonstrate that they will direct the proposed partnership activities and manage the funding on behalf of the MRC to ensure that the objectives are fully delivered. Only researchers who will contribute to the academic leadership of the partnership should be included as a co-investigator (CoI). The proposal should outline other major collaborations important for the research and clearly demonstrate how all of the investigators named in the proposal would work together, as well as identify their respective and complementary contributions.

This scheme is open to PIs based within an MRC unit, but is not open to those within MRC institutes. Members of MRC's institutes can apply as CoIs on partnership grants.

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Financial support

A partnership grant will provide funds for one to five years. Resource requests will vary between partnerships (see case studies) therefore applicants are strongly advised to discuss this with the relevant programme manager prior to applying (see ‘How to apply?’).

Investigators' salaries

Where resources are requested for investigator time, the proposal should outline the input of each of the named investigators and justify why the stated time commitment is necessary for the partnership. It is anticipated that in most instances only the PI and possibly one or two CoIs will seek reimbursement in this context. Please note that project partners are not expected to request MRC funding to participate in the partnership.

Research costs

Minimal resources should be requested for research. For example, postdoctoral research positions may only be supported in exceptional cases, however, where justified, technical posts may be requested as part of the grant.

Partnership grants may support purchase of equipment, or infrastructure that is key to the aims of the partnership and/or provides a platform for activities associated with the partnership.

If international collaboration is key to the success of the partnership, including costs for work undertaken at an overseas RO is permitted but should be discussed with the programme manager before applying. More information on allowable overseas costs can be found in section 3.1.5 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

Studentships

MRC does not expect studentships to form a major component of partnership grant applications. Studentships may be included only where distinctive added value to the students’ training experience can be demonstrated, such as through a unique environment created by the proposed partnership. Applicants must demonstrate why any proposed studentships could not be leveraged from existing studentship support, for example MRC doctoral training partnership funding. Applicants should also consider how the proposed studentships will add value to, and contribute towards the success of the partnership.

In the application, the cost of any studentships should be included in the ‘Other Directly Incurred Costs’ section of your Je-S application and marked as an exception (check/tick box indicating ‘Is Exception’ to claim the student costs at the permitted 100%). Requested costs should be at or above the research council minimum stipend and fees rates and include any expected increases in costs for the duration of the studentship.

Further information regarding studentships can be found on the studentships page. Proposals requesting studentship support should also note the statement of Expectations for Doctoral Training.

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How to apply

Pre-application stage

Applicants interested in submitting a partnership grant must contact the appropriate MRC programme manager and provide a brief abstract of the partnership grant to help them consider fit to the scheme. This initial contact with the MRC programme manager should take place a minimum of six weeks before the relevant submission deadline (further information regarding research board submission deadlines).

Please select the appropriate link to read each research board’s remit and scope. Each page also contains details of the programme managers and their email contact information:

If you are unsure who to contact please contact our Research Funding Policy & Delivery Team (email RFPD@mrc.ukri.org or telephone 01793 416440).

Following receipt of the abstract the MRC programme manager will provide advice on how best to shape the partnership grant and request a pre-application case for support to be submitted by email. Please note that the pre-application case for support should not exceed two pages of A4 but may include one additional page for references (to be included as page three of the case for support).

The case for support should include the following information:

  • the title of the potential MRC partnership
  • a list of the PI, CoIs and their affiliations
  • a list of collaborators (if known at this stage)
  • the aims of the proposal, which should address why the partnership is important, the nature of the partnership and its activities and how these align with the partnership grant expectations
  • a high level indication of the likely cost to the MRC, including staffing and equipment costs.

Applicants should also provide a two page CV for the PI and CoIs, including a succinct summary of recent funding for those investigators. An additional one page for key publications can be added as page three of the CV document.

Full application stage

Applicants invited to complete a full application via Je-S will be notified in advance of the relevant board deadline. Applications should include a cover letter that confirms the name of the programme manager who agreed the application could be submitted.

Applicants should read section 2 of the MRC guidance for applicants for information on how to complete the proposal form. If the partnership 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 guidelines below list specific points that should be addressed in the case for support for partnership grants and should be read in conjunction with the general guidance in section 2.4 of the MRC guidance for applicants. Each proposal is unique, and it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that all the reasonable questions that peer reviewers 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 applications should consist of a maximum of eight pages for three years duration or less and up to 12 pages for more than three years. These page limits include references.

For infrastructures, the case for support should be 12 pages regardless of the project duration. If funding is requested for an infrastructure in one university but which is providing a service to the research community as a whole, then applicants should make this clear within their application.

Importance

Applicants must:

  • state the aims of the partnership
  • explain why establishing a partnership is necessary for this area(s) of research
  • explain how establishing a partnership will add value to the current research landscape, for example creating new capabilities or enhance co-ordination
  • provide justification as to why the elements of support requested cannot be met through other means
  • explain how a partnership will improve the UK’s international standing in this area

Partnership plans

  • describe the activities associated with the partnership, including precise timelines and indicating where activities may be concurrent. You may include a Gantt chart to depict this
  • for any requests for infrastructure or equipment, please state how this will be used by the partners to further the aims and objectives of the partnership
  • if the partnership includes studentships, please state exactly when students will start, at which department/RO they may be based and if relevant, state when students may move between departments/ROs
  • outline future plans:
    • for sustaining the partnership beyond the proposed duration of MRC funding
    • to obtain further funding (from MRC and elsewhere) to support any follow-on hypothesis-driven research, which may develop as a result of the partnership
Participants in the partnership and existing funding
  • describe how the partnership grant will enable researchers to work together and how it will build capability in a key strategic area, for example partnerships that bring together researchers who otherwise would not work together. There should be clear discrimination between CoIs and partners/collaborators
  • describe how the partnership between the participants will benefit the wider community and the research field
  • provide justification as to why each of the named investigators is necessary for the partnership, including their level of time commitment
  • provide a very brief report on the progress of recent research for key investigators in the partnership including an acknowledgement of any previous or current MRC funding and progress to date on delivery of this research. The scale of support provided should also be included, for example number of postdocs and/or technicians, and total amount of consumables and equipment
Environment
  • describe the environment(s) in which the partnership will take place
  • describe the host RO(s) support for the partnership, for example reducing or waiving co-investigator salary, associated estates costs and other in-kind contributions such as towards purchase of equipment
  • if the proposal requests shared equipment, describe where this will be sited and how it will be supported by the host RO(s) and describe the management arrangements for ensuring equity of access
  • if the proposal includes studentships, describe the strategic rationale for including these within the partnership, including the distinctive added value to the student's training experience
Management
  • provide an overview of how the partnership will be managed, for example who will bring coherence and management to the partnership and how? Outline any plans for regular meetings, for bringing together disparate communities, a strategy for the set-up of networks, arrangements for access and upkeep of equipment. Please note, while networking or workshop activities can add value to a partnership, applications centred only on these types of activities will not be accepted
  • if students are requested in a multi-centre environment, explain the arrangements for achieving high standards of supervision and mentoring and confirm that the lead RO will ensure students will have access to appropriate postgraduate skills training and support services, in accordance with research councils' Expectations for Doctoral Training.

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Creating the application in Je-S

The guidance below on creating a partnership 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 ‘Partnership 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.

The Je-S Helpdesk is staffed Monday to Thursday 8:30-17:00 and Fridays 8:30-16:30 (excluding bank holidays and other holidays).

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Assessment of applications

Your proposal will be peer reviewed by independent experts from the UK and overseas. More information on peer review at the MRC.

Reviews are based around three core criteria: importance, scientific potential and resources requested. Before applying for a partnership grant, consider each of the specific criteria below to ensure that your application fully addresses each of these areas. Failure to address any of the criteria sufficiently in your application could result in an early stage rejection.

Importance
  • What is the strategic importance of the subject area on a national and international level?
  • How will the partnership provide distinct and important contribution to the current research landscape?
  • How original is the proposal? Are there similar partnerships in the UK or elsewhere?
  • What impact will this partnership grant funding have on current or future research?
Scientific potential

Partnership plans

  • What is the potential of this approach to advance the scientific area?
  • How appropriate are the network activities?
  • Are there clear plans for sustaining the partnership activities beyond the funded period of the grant?
  • Is the methodology robust and experimental design clear for any small scale/proof of principle work?

Participants in the partnership and existing funding

  • How feasible are the plans? Does the team of investigators have the track record to show that they will be able to deliver the proposed work within the planned duration?

Environment

  • How has the host RO(s) demonstrated commitment to supporting the proposed partnership? For example, by reducing or waiving co-investigator salary, associated estates costs and other in-kind contributions
  • Does the partnership provide opportunities for the training and career development of personnel working in the partnership?
  • If the proposal involves a request for studentships:
    • Will the studentships provide a unique training experience which could not be supported by existing MRC studentship support for example doctoral training grant funding?
    • Will the management strategy ensure high standards of supervision, mentoring and support for students?
    • Do all studentships requested meet MRC’s research training objectives and expectations (see Research Council Statement of Expectations for Doctoral Trainingopens in new window)?

Management

  • Comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management. Are they proportionate to the scale and complexity of the activity to be undertaken?
  • If the proposal is for shared equipment or expertise, have the applicants described where this will be sited and how it will be supported by the host RO(s)? Does the management strategy ensure equitable access to any equipment or staff that will be shared between collaborators?
  • Are there any ethical and/or research governance issues?
  • 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, and making it more broadly available in line with MRC’s Data Sharing Policy (PDF, 108KB)?
Resources requested 
  • Are the resources requested well justified and sufficient?
  • Does the partnership represent value for money?

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Case studies

MRC have provided partnership grant case studies exemplars of successful grants and highlighted why they were successful.

Case study 1: Towards a Collaborative Computational Project for Electron cryo-Microscopy (CCP-EM) 

Understanding how cells work is vital to combating disease. Electron cryo-Microscopy (cryo-EM) provides useful information on how molecules in a cell interact with each other and how they are affected by their location. Cryo-EM relies on specialist software for processing and interpreting experimental data. However, the provision of existing software in this area is patchy and fragmented, making it difficult for scientists to access and use the technology.

To address this issue, a UK partnership of software developers and users is being brought together to establish a Collaborative Computational Project (CCP-EM). Such an initiative for the UK cryo-EM community is completely new. It aims to coordinate scientific efforts among UK groups that are active in the field of cryo-EM, and to support both the users and developers of cryo-EM software. Acting in a partnership will not only lead to the improved provision and use of software within the cryo-EM community, but it will also facilitate new work in this expanding field.

This grant was successful because it:

  • provides a multi-disciplinary collaborative partnership between diverse groupings of researchers (computer scientists and structural and cellular biologists)
  • provides computational support for the increasing number of structural and cellular biologists using cryo-Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM); a technology which has seen a dramatic rise in popularity due to recent technical advances
  • builds on existing investments - the UK has also benefitted from a recent nation-wide investment in cryo-EM infrastructure, including expansion of the national facility; Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC).
  • strengthens the research capacity of the community by providing open source, cutting-edge software to facilitate and enhance the processing of experimental data; making it easier for new researchers to enter the field and enable the UK to remain at the forefront of their field
  • provides high-value community support through the dissemination of information and training on available software, needs-led improvement in software, help desk support, regular workshops and courses, and annual symposia.

Case study 2: Childhood Arthritis Response to Treatment consortium (CHART): partnership to define stratified medicine tools for childhood inflammatory arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a rare but serious chronic inflammatory rheumatologic disease. Timely treatment of this disease is essential; however, current drug therapy is based on a 'wait and see' method, using a variety of different drugs, one after the other, with no way of predicting a patient’s responsiveness to the treatment.

A new MRC partnership grant will establish the Childhood Arthritis Response to Treatment consortium (CHART), uniting the UK’s leading investigators in JIA translational research in order to improve understanding of treatment responses in patients suffering with childhood arthritis. Prior to this grant, UK centres studying JIA had no formal mechanism to work together. CHART will enable better evaluation of existing clinical datasets and protocols, analysis and sharing of data within a common platform, and standardisation of datasets, measurements and protocols. Standardisation of data sets and protocols will also enable the maximal recruitment of patients to existing cohorts. The CHART consortium aims to include both international and industry partners in the future and will provide an evidence-base in order to improve treatment choices for sufferers of JIA.

This grant was successful because it:

  • addresses an important area of unmet clinical need
  • offers a focused remit with well-defined objectives to standardise protocols and data collection and provide a harmonised resource for both retrospective and prospective samples
  • provides strong UK-wide support through collaboration/project partners, including clinicians, researchers, industry, and patients
  • has a strong justification of resources, with costs primarily to support travel, consortium meetings, and core staff (a partnership coordinator and a data manager) plus resource to set up the data platform, manage the data, and provide appropriate data security.
  • provides clear long-term goals for the outcome of the partnership and future research funding – predictors of response to medication to inform treatment stratification in JIA.

Case study 3: Building multi-site clinical research capacity in Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

The non-invasive neuroimaging technique Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is used to directly investigate neuronal activity in the brain. It has many advantages over other neuroimaging methods including improved time resolution and spatial discrimination, and is a robust technique with which to study brain activity in medical conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. However, the clinical research capacity of MEG is currently underdeveloped in the UK.

This MRC partnership grant will bring together MEG centres in the UK, in order to develop training programmes and increase critical research mass in the area of MEG.  This multi-centre partnership will consist of academic networking events and stimulation of research collaborations, training schemes and PhD studentships. It will also involve the establishment of standardised protocols, common data analysis approaches, and integration and sharing of data from multiple sites and systems. Setting up this collaborative network will advance the UK's clinical research output and international competitiveness in Magnetoencephalography.

This grant was successful because it:

  • offers new collaborative activity to build clinical MEG research capacity in the UK
  • builds on existing investments by universities, the research councils and other funders in MEG in the UK
  • provides strong UK-wide support with all 8 MEG sites in the UK participating in the collaboration
  • exploits existing resources to develop common analysis tools and standardised protocols, which will provide a platform for further applied clinical research
  • provides important capacity building activities, including establishment of infrastructure required for data sharing, exchange of personal and training of eight PhD students
  • offers good value for money with participating centres subsidising part of scanning costs
  • shows potential for high impact – it could open up new clinical applications and increase the number of patients who would benefit from the technique/non-invasive medical imaging.

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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 this page).

To discuss your eligibility or any other non-scientific queries please contact Research Funding Policy and Delivery: 

Email: RFPD@mrc.ukri.org

Tel: 01793 416440

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