This call is now closed. The following is for information only.

We are pleased to announce the call for outline proposals for our Centres Competition 2018.  

We are investing up to £30 million over five years through this centres competition. It is anticipated that ESRC will fund four centres. The competition is for proposals ranging from £2 million to £8 million 100% full economic cost (fEC) with a term of five years. We will meet 80% of the full economic costs on proposals submitted (ie ESRC funding total of £24 million at 80% fEC).

Research centre funding is aimed at experienced research leaders who require longer-term or extended support for research groups, inter-institutional research networks, project-linked programmes, medium-to-large surveys, other infrastructure or methodological developments, or any related larger-scale projects.

We envisage centres as long term investments which strengthen the social science landscape in the UK and successful proposals must add value to the current portfolio of ESRC centres. In addition to taking forward an ambitious research agenda and making significant economic or societal impact, centres add value by increasing research infrastructure, building capacity, encouraging interdisciplinary working in social science and beyond, and enabling research collaboration in the UK and internationally. We anticipate that over time centres awarded under this call will become major strategic partnerships with their host research organisations.


The competition is open to innovative new research addressing any major social and economic topic. There will be no priority areas for this call. It is an essential requirement that your primary research area is in the social sciences. We strongly encourage inter/multidisciplinary working both within and beyond the social sciences, as long as at least 50% of the proposed programme of research is within ESRC remit. Please refer to the list of research areas that fall within ESRC remit for further information.  

We particularly encourage ambitious and novel research proposals addressing new concepts and techniques, and proposals with the potential for significant scientific or societal and economic impact.  Knowledge exchange and impact-generating activities will be an integral part of any centre proposal, regardless of topic area or discipline.

Submissions from existing centres should explain how the proposal meets the current centre’s aims and objectives and how the research programme will be expanded upon. Proposals for new centres should ensure that they do not substantially overlap or duplicate an existing centre. We would expect centres to have the strategic support of their host research organisation (RO), and to provide evidence of the institution’s support to the centre over the longer term.   

New policy

As in previous Centres Competitions, ESRC will be looking for evidence of long term institutional commitment, both strategic and financial, to the proposed centre application through the provision of grant-associated parallel activities and capacity-building. ESRC has recently reviewed and revised our centres policy with the aim of fostering and sustaining a larger number of centres within the UK social science infrastructure over the longer term. ESRC will provide an opportunity for centres that are successful in this competition to go on to apply for further graduated ESRC support to follow on from the centre grant. As in previous centres Competitions iIt is expected that a successful centre will be supported by strong strategic, and financial, commitment from their host Research Organisation (RO). We will be looking for evidence that an additional strategic commitment from the RO will equate, at a minimum, to what will be required for transition funding (for example - the RO will provide an additional strategic commitment to the centre of no less than 5% of the full economic costs of the proposal). However, we would encourage ROs to continue to offer the level of support they have in past proposals through commitments appropriate to their plans for the Centre.

We encourage applicants to think imaginatively about the structure and organisation of their centre proposals. We strongly encourage proposals which involve partnerships and collaborative relationships. Partnerships may build on existing relationships or represent new collaborative relationships.

How to apply

Research organisations have been asked to limit the number of submissions to this Competition through an institutional allocation. In addition to this institutional allocation, existing ESRC Centres will also be entitled to apply to this Competition, so that they will not be prevented from applying by this demand management process. Your institution will be able to provide you with further information.  Independent ROs applying to the competition should assume they can submit one application (unless they also host an existing Centre).

The assessment of proposals will be a two-stage process. Outline proposals will be assessed and shortlisted by an assessment panel. It is anticipated that shortlisted applicants will be contacted to invite submission to the full proposal stage in June 2018.

Outline proposals must be submitted to the Je-S system by the call deadline 16.00 on 20 March 2018.

Applications will be assessed by the commissioning panels and a final short-list invited to interview in London in early February 2019. Funding decisions will be available at the end of March 2019, and the centres awarded will start in October 2019.

Outline applications must be costed and approved by the relevant institutional authority before submission. Detailed guidance on the procedures for completing the outline proposal is available in the Je-S guidance notes for applicants (below).

We are aware that there are some discrepancies, regarding the attachments required for this call, between the guidance in the documents listed below and the guidance within the Je-S system. Please note that in such cases the Call specification, Centres Je-S guidance notes for applicants and FAQs documents below should take precedence.  

Call documents