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School for Public Health Research - Frequently Asked Questions



This document provides the answers to frequently asked questions relating to the NIHR School for Public Health Research funding competition 2020, and is intended to supplement the guidance document. This will be a live document that will be updated weekly with new queries and responses.


Question: The applicants were wondering if there are any plans to change the SPHR submission deadline (currently 28th Jan 13:00) given the significant challenges of co-ordinating a collaborative bid in the context of the new national lockdown - particularly for people dealing with unanticipated childcare, home schooling, shielding and other caring responsibilities. Please can you let us know if/when any decision on this is taken.

Answer: The call opened in October 2020 to allow applicants almost four months to prepare and complete their applications, which was longer than previously planned. NIHR allowed a longer time frame in light of the pressures that COVID-19 has placed on universities, academics and non-academic researchers as well as the possibility of continued restrictions. By delaying the deadline to the 28th January, the timeline for commissioning and future business planning is already tighter than previous commissioning rounds. We understand the difficulties that applicants are facing due to new measures being taken against COVID-19, but a further delay beyond the deadline is not possible at this stage. 


Question: I have a query about the CCF RMS form for the SPHR competition, please, and was wondering if you could advise. We are seeking to include references. Please can you advise if this is permitted and if so, where we should put them? I can’t see that there’s the ability to upload a reference list as an attachment (as with many NIHR forms), so would this just need to be at the bottom of each text box?

Answer:  There is not a requirement to include references within the application, so there isn't the facility to upload references as a supporting document. If you would like to include references, please include them within the various section responses or provide a link within the text. 

Research team 

Question: Does this section just refer to the 5 leads or should it include also other senior academics in public health research within the organisation?

Answer: The Researchers section of the application refers to the 5 lead researchers but also the wider research team. In the guidance, it explains that the breadth of the wider research team within the organisation should also be described, as well as evidence of a sustainable structure to support the school and manage the contract.   

Collaboration and strategic partnerships

Question: The guidance refers to ‘the applicants’ track record’.  Is this the organisation or just the 5 key researchers?

Answer: The reference to the applicant in the Collaboration section refers to the applying organisation. 

Summary of the application

Question: Is there a word count for the Summary of the Application in plain English? 

Answer: The word count for the Summary of the Application is 750 words. 

Publications and outputs 

Question: We are looking through the SPHR guidance and hope you could clarify for us please whether the publications and outputs requested in section 11 should be selected just from the 5 key research leads, or from the broader research team? The implication is that it is just from the 5 as the text says that the information will be contextualised by reviewing alongside the CVs (which are only submitted for the 5 research leads), but section 4 seems to ask for information both about the 5 key leads and the broader research team so we are wondering which set of people we should include publications/outputs for, please.

Answer: The publications and outputs list is only for the 5 research leads. Section 4 of the application allows for a wider narrative about the wider research team and department at the applying institution. 

External research funding 

1. Question: In the guidance, it states: “Please provide details of the external research funding received by the applying academic institution for research directly relevant to public health research from 01 January 2015 to 31 December 2020. The list should include all the relevant awards that started after 1 January 2015, irrespective of their end date. Please indicate the total amount that was awarded to the organization applying to SPHR for that particular award. Please provide details of the research funder, administering organisation, award title, Principal Investigator, start and end dates and the amount awarded. You are able to include relevant infrastructure funding, awarded to the department or part of your organisation applying to be a member of SPHR.”

We have interpreted this as all funding across the whole of the institution (i.e. not just funding for the core applicants). Is that correct?

At some universities, all the research is public health related – in all Research Departments in every Faculty. That’s hundreds of grants across the institution, but many will be far removed (geographically and subject-wise) from the kind of work that concerns SPHR. We would like some guidance on a way to focus on the information NIHR will find useful, and avoid spending many hours compiling details about grants that are not likely to influence decisions about our application. We are seeking NIHR’s permission to make a distinction between public health research we think is relevant to the work SPHR does, and public health research that has less direct relevance to this bid.  

Answer: We completely understand and agree that we don't want to create a large amount of work for an organisation that is purely public health focused, as the external funding list is for the organisation not the 5 key researchers.  Please focus on including external funding awards that were awarded to the departments that are applying to be a part of the School and focus on external funding awards that are relevant to the remit of the SPHR.   

2. Question: Within the 'External Research Funding' section please can I double check whether we need to include all of the SPHR funded grants awarded to XXXXXX from the current SPHR funding period (2017-2022)?  If so do we a) list all of the individual projects awarded to XXXXXX across the SPHR programme and themes, b) include a top level funding figure for all of the XXXXXX research or c) include a top level figure for the original research budget awarded to XXXXXX and list the additional funded projects separately i.e. PHPES?

Answer: I would recommend option A, listing the separate awards and associated funding that have been awarded to XXXXXX within SPHR funding.  This information is more helpful than an overarching amount and will illustrate the volume and source of relevant external research funding received by the academic institution, which will show the quality and scale of public health research conducted.

Supporting documents

1. Question: Are supporting letters, for example from the members of the consortium, required for submission of the application? Is the intention that this should happen for this renewal? If so, where do we add them?

Answer: We are not requiring letters of support at the application submission stage. We will ask for letters of support from consortia members as a condition of funding if the application is successful. This will be especially important for successful consortia applications that have not previously contracted with the NIHR.

2. Question: I have a question about the CV form (one of the additional supporting documents). The CV form asks for the number of grants the applicant has held (section 2 of the CV form). Can you confirm if there is a time period they should be covering here? The publication lists asks for publications in a five year period, does the same time period apply to grants held? If there is no time period, then this will end up as a very long list for some applicants.

Answer: The number of awards in the CV is a quantitative answer, so it will just be a number. This is an opportunity for the key researchers to quantify the total number of grants and the total amount of funding of these grants over their career. This should not include a list that specifies what these grants are.