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ORIED Announces NIH AREA Eligibility Update

For the past several years, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the UT Institute of Agriculture have been eligible for the NIH Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions, one of NIH’s two R15 awards. AREA is a research capacity-building program for institutions that have not received significant levels of NIH funding, and AREA-eligible institutions are required to recalculate and recertify their eligibility on an annual basis.

In the most recent analysis performed by the Office of Research, Innovation, & Economic Development (ORIED), UT’s NIH funding has increased to the point that UT and UTIA will not be eligible for AREA in 2022. This affects all UT and UTIA submissions to AREA (PAR-21-154 and PAR-21-155), as well as any other funding opportunities that use AREA eligibility (e.g., American Heart Association AIREA). UT and UTIA remain ineligible for NIH’s other R15 award, the Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP) for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools (PAR-19-134 and PAR-19-135). ORIED will reassess UT’s AREA eligibility in December 2022 for deadlines in 2023.

UT may be entering a liminal period where the university dips into and out of AREA eligibility on a year-by-year basis. This makes AREA an unsuitable mechanism for faculty who need a dependable, renewable, lab-sustaining award; such faculty are encouraged to consider a mechanism like the R01 or the R35. During eligible years, AREA may still be suitable for faculty who need one-time funding for a project that can be completed in the three-year AREA award period with no renewal.

Additional guidance for common scenarios is provided below:

Yes. If you submitted an AREA proposal during a period when UT was eligible, you can receive an award. If you do not receive an award, you will not be able to resubmit your proposal to AREA in 2022, but you can submit it as a new proposal to a different mechanism.
No. Your active AREA award can continue until the project end date, including any approved no-cost time extensions.
No. You cannot not renew an AREA award during a period when UT is ineligible for AREA. You will need to submit a new proposal to a different mechanism.
Consider pivoting to a different mechanism, like an R01 or an R35. Talk to ORIED, talk to a program officer, make a plan, and go for it!

While it is good news for UT as an institution that NIH funding is increasing, individual faculty who have active AREA awards or planned AREA submissions may have questions or concerns. To discuss a revised NIH submission strategy, please contact Jennifer Webster at