Serial failures barred from further bidding for grants

March 19, 2009

Academics with a sub-25 per cent success rate in obtaining research grants and who have repeatedly submitted low-quality proposals are to be banned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council from making further applications.

The changes, which the EPSRC expected to affect up to 250 people, or 5 per cent of applicants, have been unveiled as part of a set of rules designed to reduce the pressure on its peer-review system.

From 1 June, the council will ban repeatedly unsuccessful applicants from submitting proposals for a year. Those who do submit will be asked to take part in a mentoring programme.

The EPSRC will automatically reject applicants listed as principal investigators who have an overall personal success rate below 25 per cent and who have submitted "three or more proposals within a two-year period" that are ranked in the "bottom half of a funding prioritisation list" or are "rejected before panel".

"Uninvited" resubmissions will also no longer be allowed - a change from the previous position, where failed proposals could be resubmitted after six months.

"The majority of resubmissions are not successful, and their ranking position does not change. We want applicants to substantially change proposals before applying again to make the best use of the peer-review process," the EPSRC said.

But Mike Glazer, professor of physics at the University of Oxford, said the EPSRC's decision to exclude repeatedly unsuccessful applicants was "akin to being labelled a sex offender" or a "kind of pariah".

He said there were multiple reasons why researchers failed to win grant money, and frivolous applications were uncommon. "Perhaps they happen to be working in an area that is not 'flavour of the month', as dictated by the gods of the (EPSRC)," Professor Glazer said. "This has nothing to do with objective science but is a matter of (the EPSRC's) own convenience."

The EPSRC is understood to be the first council to introduce the measures.

Editor’s note

The EPSRC’s full explanation of the changes is available at:

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