Whilst NERC already has in place some measures to 'manage demand' - eg limiting the number of applications an investigator can submit per call and restricting resubmissions - this hasn't stopped the success rates from sliding in recent years. They're hoping to reverse this by encouraging institutions to strip out applications which NERC would define as 'uncompetitive' (defined by them as scoring 6/10 or below at panel).
So what are they going to do?
- firstly, ask institutions to nominate a point of contact for demand management;
- secondly, in the summer, provide data on past performance to them. This will be repeated annually from autumn 2013. The data will apply to Urgency, Large and Standard Grants, but not Fellowships or outlines. It will include: success rates for all schemes; distribution of grades for funded and unfunded proposals by scheme; final moderated grades for all proposals from institution/department; relative performance of institution/department.
- thirdly, from autumn 2012 NERC will (ahem) 'engage in a strategic dialogue' with institutions to provide information and advice in support of demand management, including setting targets for changes in submission behaviours. They can't meet with everyone in the first year, so those with the most applications, or with black marks in the NERC copy book, will be the first to get a visit from 'the management.'
So, at the moment, it looks to be relatively light touch: more ESRC than EPSRC. However, there will be the expectation that all research organisation will have their own internal quality control systems in place.
Who will be the next Research Council to fall in to line? Given the recent rumblings from Death Star House, my money's on the AHRC...