A tender is a formal offer to carry out a stated piece of work for an agreed fixed price, usually in response to a formal invitation to bid (often called an 'Invitation to Tender' (ITT)). An ITT is essentially a procurement mechanism through which a ‘buyer’ invites ‘suppliers’ to submit a bid to provide specified ‘services’; where the ‘services’ comprise research activity, the tender must be passed to Research Services prior to submission.
Tenders differ to traditional applications for research funding in that if the funder accepts an initial tender proposal the applicant will be legally bound to deliver the work, as described in the submission and for the quoted price.
Although ITTs can be issued by all sorts of institutions/bodies all over the world, ITTs relating to research are often issued by UK government departments. These are advertised on the Contract finder section of the government website and through the DfID portal.
For information and advice on tenders submitted to the European Commission see the Oxford Gateway to Europe. Please note that tenders to the European Commission which involve research activity (as opposed to applications to the European Commission under H2020) are supported by your Research Services divisional team (and not the European team).
Sometimes a call for an ‘expression of interest’ (EOI) or ‘outline’ is issued as a precursor to an ITT, but this is not a funding mechanism in itself; it is an instrument by which potential applicants can influence and shape work programmes while funders get a feel for the type and level of expertise on offer.
ITTs can be open and anyone can apply, although restrictions can apply where the ITT is issued to only certain preferred bidders (EOIs and outlines are sometimes used to narrow down the field and shortlist bidders).