When we last discussed the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) they had just instituted a penalty box for unsuccessful applicants.

The EPSRC says that scientists will not be allowed to apply for research funding for 12 months if, in the past 2 years, they have had three or more proposals ranked in the bottom half of a funding prioritization list, and also have less than 25% of all their proposals funded in that time.[source]

I missed a followup in which they modified their stance, after about two months of complaints:

the EPSRC now says that the restriction will not come in until 1 April 2010 — giving scientists more time to change their grant-submission behaviour so that they do not fall under criteria defining repeated failure. And instead of being excluded outright, researchers will be allowed one application during the year.


The EPSRC is keeping a policy introduced on 1 April, to refuse uninvited resubmissions of failed proposals, which it says will cut 20% of applications submitted for review. The exclusion policy had been expected to cut a further 10%.

Now that we are over a year down the road from this policy change, how is it going? A blog entry from Nature News shows “success”.

It worked. Applications are down from about 5,000 per year in the 2005-06 cycle to under 3,000 in the 2010-11 cycle. Success rates are up, despite a declining number of funded awards.

Of course, success rates are a poor picture of what has happened to science funding and the conduct of the science that will be supported. The tough questions start from here. Who has managed to secure funding? Who has been shelled out of the system? Have existing labs been scaled back…or lost altogether? Has this been at disparate cost to newly starting faculty, mid-career faculty or the geezertariat?

There are many questions to be answered. I do hope any additional funding agencies that may be eying those success rate curves with envy stop to look behind the curtain.