NIH proposes cap to balance funding distribution

News for Researchers

June 2, 2017

Increasing the share of grants awarded to early- and mid-career scientists and protecting research time for late-career investigators are the goals of a proposed National Institutes of Health policy. The plan would limit the total NIH grant support provided to an individual principal investigator.

NIH has proposed a funding cap based on the Grant Support Index, a system that would assign a point value to grants based on type, complexity and size. The agency would require researchers with a GSI of more than 21 to include a plan in new NIH proposals for bringing their workload within GSI limits, should they receive funding. A GSI of 21 is equivalent to three single-PI R01 awards.

In a May 2 statement, NIH Director Francis Collins said the plan, expected to take effect in fall 2017, is part of the agency’s longstanding effort to correct imbalances in funding distribution across the biomedical research workforce. The share of funding for early-career researchers is stagnant, and grant support for mid-career scientists is declining. The only group for which NIH funding is increasing is late-career investigators.

This trend is reflected by the fact that just 10 percent of NIH-funded investigators receive over 40 percent of NIH funding. Recent analyses from NIH and others have shown that research output steadily declines as the amount of support per investigator increases because of the workload required to manage multiple projects. NIH officials also are concerned that lopsided funding may harm the productivity of the next generation of scientists and the overall research enterprise.

Though the details are fluid, NIH estimates the plan would make 1,600 awards available to a broader group of investigators. In the coming months, NIH will solicit feedback from the scientific community about how best to implement the cap. Subscribe to the Open Mike Blog on to learn about opportunities to provide feedback on the proposal.

In anticipation of this change, the Office of Research and Economic Development is developing a plan to help faculty meet NIH’s proposed requirements. Further details will be provided as they become available.

Update: Since this story’s original publication, the National Institutes of Health has withdrawn its proposal to implement the Grant Support Index. Its new plan, the Next Generation Researchers Initiative, is described here.

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