ESRC Demand Management

In line with all Research Councils the ESRC is considering measures to manage the increasing volume of applications it receives. Research Councils currently receive considerably more high quality applications than they are able to support. The ESRC alone has seen a 33 per cent increase in the number of applications over the past five years, an increasing amount which has far outpaced the availability of funding. Not only does the increase in applications add to the costs to institutions preparing and submitting applications, and Research Councils in processing the additional submissions, but it adds an increasing burden on peer reviewers.

The increasing volume of applications also has a direct affect on success rates which reflect the level of demand balanced against available resources. In the case of ESRC Standard Grants success rates have fallen to around 13 per cent, placing greater pressure on researchers, reviewers, universities and the ESRC which will increase as application numbers continue to rise.

The ESRC stressed in their latest news release that whilst they will continue to fund the highest quality applications received, the widening gap between the volume of applications and available funding needs to be addressed in order to deal with the inefficiencies of the system. Too much time is spent on writing and assessing applications which will not be funded. Furthermore, at a time when Research Councils are trying to make efficiency savings in administration, the estimated costs of processing a full proposal is around £10,000. The ESRC’s aim is to have fewer, high-quality applications so the best social science is funded in the most effective way.

The way forward

Following a preliminary exercise with the social science community, the ESRC will be introducing an initial programme of measures to be introduced in June 2011 of improved self-regulation and a change to the existing peer review practices and submission policies.

Under these initial measures we expect to see individuals and HEIs demonstrate that they are looking at ways to improve self-regulation through:

  • Continuation or introduction of formal quality assurance systems
  • Submission of higher quality applications and more selective submission of applications

To help individuals and HEIs meet these expectations through self-regulation we will:

  • maximise transparency by regularly providing more performance data to institutions and a set of performance data for the last three years
  • develop and disseminate good practice guidelines on grant application writing and HEI quality assurance mechanisms
  • introduce an invited-only resubmissions policy effective from June 2011
  • develop and disseminate guidance on the  resubmission policy
  • reduce the external peer review burden through revised sifting mechanisms (greater use of outline applications and earlier sifting  for standard grants)
  • seek to simplify the current RCUK JeS outline application process
  • issue more tightly specified calls on managed mode schemes which address the ESRC strategic priorities
  • looking more broadly, work with other RCUK partners to address the structural dynamics which are driving submission behaviour
  • where possible harmonise any demand management measures with other Research Councils

After an initial 12 months the ESRC will review the effectiveness of these measures to establish whether further steps need to be taken to manage demand. 

We will assess if:

  • there has been progress in reducing the overall volume of applications
  • there has been progress in increasing the overall quality of applications
  • there has been progress in reducing the level of applications at an institutional level
  • there has been progress in increasing the overall quality of applications at an institutional level
  • institutions can demonstrate they have formal quality assurance measures
  • the external peer review burden has been reduced across our schemes
  • overall success rates have improved and look at institutional performance against average success rates.

The impact of the initial programme will be taken into account before deciding whether any further measures need to be taken. These measures could include:

  • Researcher sanctions
  • Institutional sanctions
  • Institutional quotas
  • Charging for applications

Timetable of Activity

24 March 2011: Demand management documentation and consultation published 

16 June 2011: Deadline for consultation responses

May 2011: Three years of data given to institutions

June 2011: Initial programme of measures introduced

September 2011: Consultation responses reviewed and reported to ESRC Council

Late autumn 2011: Results of consultation announced

November 2011: First set of data to institutions

May 2012: Second set of data to institutions

June 2012: Programme of initial measures reviewed

August 2012: Third set of data to institutions

October 2012: Results of initial measures published and new measures announced if needed


The ESRC has launched a consultation on the demand management options. Matters of particular interest include:

  • Which main demand management options are worthy of further development and why?
  • How might those options be further developed and refined?
  • Which, if any of the main demand management options, would you not consider for further development and why?
  • Overall, which of the options offers the best opportunities to effectively manage demand whilst ensuring the flow of high-quality research applications?
  • Are there any further options which are not included in this paper which should be considered by us as part of our demand management strategy?

The deadline for the submission of responses is 16 June 2011. These should be completed using the form on ‘SurveyMonkey’

Responses will inform the discussion of demand management at the September meeting of the ESRC Council with results announced in late autumn.

More information on the ESRC and demand management and the consultation can be found on the ESRC website. For an overview of the Research Council’s position with regards to demand management please visit the RCUK website.