The main reason given for this cutback is to “focus resources on schemes that are of greatest importance in achieving strategic aims for responsive mode”.
It’s been widely reported that funders, particularly research councils, want to concentrate funding to maximise return on investment for them. Our RCUK Delivery Plan analysis earlier this year highlighted that concentration of funding in larger grants and fewer institutions was an explicit goal for several of the research councils over the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review. This is part of the outworking of that policy.
Phil Ward, Research Manager at the University of Kent, has blogged about this and included a useful report on a conversation with one of the Funding Managers at NERC. Dr. Sarah Collinge added that the reasons were: a) budget cuts, b) reducing the bureaucracy of managing several small grants for every one large grant, and c) small grants tended to be lower quality than many standard grants.
As part of the same statement, NERC have also announced their intention to shift consortium grants to one grant round per year, rather than the current two. In addition they will introduce an outline stage assessed by members of the NERC Peer Review College.