Pre-award processes for research funding and research-related funding

The University Research Committee and Executive Academic Group have approved a Governance Framework that covers all aspects of the pre-award workflow for research funding. This includes the University’s Peer Review Policy and Processes, Policy for Approval of Industrial Funders and Donors, Matched Funding Policy, costing of bids, key decision-making points, expert support from Professional Services (RKE, Finance and DARO).

Academics and researchers are asked to familiarise themselves with the framework, and to work within the policies and processes that are set out. Our objective is to support all applicants in order to ensure that bids are developed to the highest possible standard, due diligence is completed and costings are completed appropriately.

Guidance is provided for funding under three headings, with key contacts set out in the table below:

A. Competitive Research/Research-Related Funding
B. Industrial Funding of Research
C. Research-Related Donations

Research England and HESA only permit us to class income as ‘research’ if it conforms to the Frascati definition of research (Frascati Manual 2002). This is the internationally recognised methodology for collecting and using R&D statistics. It defines research as follows: Research and experimental development (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications. This includes Basic Research, Applied Research and Experimental Development. Capacity building funding schemes such as Research England’s E3 and Strength in Places are normally categorised as research-related, not research. Similarly, Centres for Doctoral Training and Doctoral Training Programmes are also categorised as research-related.

Competitive Research Funding and Research-Related Funding 

The following workflow sets out a check-list and timelines:

  • To ensure that colleagues in RKE and Finance can manage workloads and give the best possible service to applicants in the pre-award phase.
  • To ensure that academic colleagues have the opportunity to engage fully in the peer review process, that informed decisions are made with respect to donors, match-funding, costing and that any required letters of support are thoroughly prepared.
  • We recognise that there will be exceptions to this process and timeline (for example, smaller bids; calls with very short deadlines; high-value, multi-partner bids) which will require a more flexible approach. In all cases, please contact your SFM/ADR as soon as possible to discuss, and to agree specific deadlines.

Figure 1: Pre-Award Workflow for Competitive Research Funding and Research-Related Funding

research-graphic

New Applications

Major Research Funders, their priorities and funding opportunities

Applicants who are preparing bids for research funding may make their first point of contact with Professional Services either through Research and Knowledge Exchange (RKE) or Finance. Regardless of the point of entry, information about the bid must be shared between relevant individuals in both departments. It is mandatory that ALL bids for research grants and awards need to be entered onto Agresso Research Costing and Pricing (ARCP) by RKE, with appropriate input and sign-off from RKE and Finance.

For large, strategic bids applicants also need to start discussions with their Associate Dean Research/Executive Dean as soon as possible regarding the requirement for:

As part of the University's planning to address the financial challenges posed by COVID-19, we have adopted a more active approach to managing our research bids, covering both volume and financial parameters. The University has put in place a set of measures across a range of funders which are summary in Table 2 (below) and are operational from 1 July 2020.

Table 2: Summary of active management of research bids

 

Funder

Number and volume of bids

Financial parameters/comments

UKRI, including GCRF,
ISCF and Innovate

No restrictions

Standard 0.2 FTE PI time
Standard 0.1 FTE CI time
(BBSRC/MRC 0.1FTE PI time & 0.05FTE CI time)

Doctoral Training (UKRI
and Charity)

No restrictions

Subject to College approval of matched funding element

Fellowships, incl, UKRI,
RAEng and Leverhulme

No restrictions

Subject to College approval of any matched funding element or commitment to appointment beyond Fellowships

KTP

No restrictions

 

EU H2020

No restrictions

Standard 0.2 FTE PI time
Standard 0.1 FTE CI time

EU ERC

No restrictions

Scheme specific

EU Erasmus +

No longer supported

 

EU RISE

Up to 5 bids p.a. across the institution

Expectation is that 1-2 are funded

EU Marie Curie Fellowships

Up to 20 bids p.a. across the institution

Expectation is that 2-3 are funded

EU ITNs

Up to 15 bids p.a. across the institution

Expectation is that 1-2 are funded

EU COFUND

No longer supported

 

Charities (e.g. British Academy, Leverhulme, Wellcome, Newton)

No restrictions

Subject to College agreement for any matched funding contribution, for instance for equipment

Industry funding via charitable donations

No longer supported - refer to Industry funding

Donations for equipment and consumables up to £20,000, plus the PhD studentships, will still be accepted.

Industry funding (collaborative)

No restrictions

Standard 100% fEC and no lower than 50% contributions on overall income

Industry funding (contract)

No restrictions

Standard 120% fEC and no lower than 50% contributions on overall income

UK Government

No restrictions

Standard 100% fEC and no lower than 50% contributions on overall income

Other overseas funding (excluding PhD studentships)

No restrictions

Standard 100% fEC and no lower than 50% contributions on overall income

Research-related, incl. ERDF, Shared Prosperity Fund, Strength in Places

TBC

Subject to College agreement for any in-kind funding contribution

Please note:

  • This is not a exhaustive list of funders or schemes and other cases will be addressed on an individual basis by RKE;
  • The matched funding element of bids should be agreed at least ten working days before the submission deadline (see Figure 1). We expect all colleagues to take note of this deadline and work with their SFM to ensure that matched funding is agreed with the ADR/Executive Dean and bids have costings completed at least 5 working days before the deadline, leaving adequate time for internal approval in the final week prior to submission. If this timeline for bid development is not met, we do not guarantee that the University will allow the grant to be submitted, particularly when grants are complex and/or involve multiple partners.
  • Where applicants wish to diverge from the provisions in Table 2, approval of both the Executive Dean of the College and the PVC Research will be required. In such cases, it is particularly important to involve your SFM in early discussions regarding your bid;
  • We recognise the importance of certain schemes (such as British Academy small grants and charity funding) for ECRs in developing a track record of funding success;
  • Where bid numbers/volumes are specified, this selection process will be overseen by RKE.
Bid Development

Bid development is an iterative process, and the way in which the team of academics and professional service staff in RKE and Finance work together is key to success. Not all bids will follow the same pattern in terms of their development, but the following elements are common to most and they tend to overlap, rather than following a linear model:

a. Proposal development, including working with non-Aston partners where relevant (academics/RKE).

b. Formative peer review (RKE lead), working with academics within and beyond the host College.

c. Costing (Finance lead, working with RKE/academic to add and check all elements versus funder requirements and to maximise opportunities). It is important that bids are realistically costed (with all eligible options investigated), rather than cheaply costed. It includes: interpretation of call document and funder guidance/requirements for particular schemes; questioning the requirements of the academics; clarifying skills required from post-docs in order to deliver the research; accurate estimation of time and resources required to complete different elements of work packages.

d. Requirements in respect of research facilities, to ensure that there is capacity to run the research within the desired timeframe and that it is appropriately costed (Finance lead, working with RKE and academic).

e. Matched-funding requirements from College/University (academic or RKE led discussion with ADR/Executive Dean/PVC-R/Finance.

f. Industrial/business contributions – cash or in-kind (academic, RKE or DARO lead).

g. Contract development (RKE). For bids that involve the participation of a company (e.g. Royal Society short industry fellowships) the applicant should discuss with RKE (Awards and Contracts Specialist and Business Development Manager) before submission if it is necessary to sign and NDA and/or a MoU.  The industrial party should be informed of the funder’s terms and conditions of the award, which can be provided by RKE also prior submission, and confirm that they are willing to accept them. If required, discussions related to a collaboration agreement can start at any stage.

h. Letters of support (academic or RKE lead).

    Decision-making

    a. Stage one:

    i. Local peer review requirements (relevant for funder/value of bid) are satisfied. If not then the bid does not progress through peer review; it may go back into the development phase. (RKE lead, working with ADR/College research lead).

    ii. Industry funder/donor approved, match-funding confirmed and approved by College/University as relevant. If not approved, then the bid may go back into the development phase (RKE/academic lead working with ADR/Executive Dean/Finance/DARO).

    b. Stage two:

    i. Finance lead to ensure completion of costing and compliance with funder requirements (with academic lead and partners (where relevant) and RKE). 

    ii. SFM/GCO to ensure completion of letter of support, including alignment of all finances, partner contributions and matched funding.

    ARCP System Workflow Approvals 

    At this stage, if a team approach has been taken, all questions should have been answered, issues dealt with and corrections made. Final sign-off takes place through the ARCP system workflow approvals in the following order:

    a. Finance
    b. RKE (Research (SFM); KE (John Richards); Donations (Christiane Dickens))
    c. ADR/Executive Dean
    d. Over £1m Chief Operating Officer; over £2m Vice-Chancellor; Over £5m Council approval is required.

    Collaborative Contracts with Third Parties

    The majority of funding that we secure to conduct research is won from external funders (e.g. Research Councils, Charities, EU) through competitive funding calls. At Aston we also enter into collaborative contracts with industrial, third sector or clinical partners to conduct research. This process covers CASE studentships, consultancy agreements (where an Aston member of staff is the consultant and is doing the consultancy through the University), Research Agreement and Clinical trials or study agreements. In these cases, the following process applies:

    1. The Academic and relevant Business Development Manager agree the project scope (involving Research Integrity Manager for Clinical projects or projects using human tissue, also involve Dr Karen Woodhall for and projects that involve use of the Aston Brain Centre)
    2. Business Development Manager liaises with Research Finance Manager for costing (100% FEC for collaborative research, 120% FEC for contract research).
    3. Business Development Manager or Awards and Contracts Specialist downloads the latest template which must be downloaded “fresh” from the OGC webpage on every occasion.
    4. The Business Development Manager adds the commercial terms into the template ensuring that all square brackets are completed, including deleting the guidance notes in the footnotes before circulating the draft to the other party. If a particular case requires an amendment to the template they will contact the OGC for advice.
    5. For clinical contracts, the contract should also be checked by OGC, Insurance and Research Integrity Manager.
    6. Confirm the other party is compliant with Aston's policy on acceptance of funding where reputational or ethical challenges arise policy.
    7. Credit check completed (by the Commercial Credit Controller) to determine if the company has the funds to support the contract and to determine the invoicing terms.
    8. The Business Development Manager reviews any changes requested by contract party; changes are reviewed by the Contracts and Awards Specialist. For unusual/difficult cases, discussions will have been had at Director level within RKE before referring to OGC and any significant changes (as deemed by Director of Contracts and Awards Specialist) to boiler plate clauses are then referred to OGC by the Business Development Manager ccing the Contracts and Awards Specialist (or Contracts and Awards Specialist ccing Business Development Manager as appropriate) for review (e.g. liability provisions, indemnities, force majeure or termination).
    9. Changes to commercial terms (e.g publication, costs, IP, duration of agreement) RKE negotiate to ensure that finance model matches the terms and academic is in agreement.
    10. Significant changes to wording of commercial terms are reviewed by an RKE Director/Contracts and Awards Specialist. Referrals are made to the OGC by the Business Development Manager ccing the Awards Specialist if deemed necessary
    11. The final version is checked by an RKE Director as part of the ARCP sign off process and there is assurance that the contract will be executed in a timely fashion in accordance with the University’s Financial and Legal Regulations specifically, delegated authorities.
    12. A scan of the signed agreement is saved on the RKE shared drive, and is sent to the third party. The contract and credit check are provided to Finance to enable them to set up the grant code and conduct post award management. Aston’s original copy of the contract is provided to OGC. RKE move the status to awarded on ARCP.
    Donations

    Any Research related funding or in-kind (including equipment, materials etc.) from sources that do not fall under the following should undergo due diligence checks in addition to RKE standard ARCP process (this is regardless of the funding amount). RKE's ARCP process assesses the financial implications arising from accepting funding (e.g. matched funding, overheads, VAT etc.)

    1. Proposed grants, funding, and donations from the UK government, UK Universities, funding councils and related bodies within the UK, USA, Australia or EU will be subject to RKE grant funding application procedures (using ARCP) and then can be progressed to the signing of an appropriate agreement with the funder in accordance with Aston University contractual procedures.
    2. Proposed grants from grant giving bodies, which are subject to competitive, peer-reviewed, bids for funds will undergo the standard RKE grant funding application procedures (through ARCP).
    3. Research Donations and Grants from any member charity of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRCs) will undergo the standard RKE grant funding application procedures (through ARCP).
    4. Donors that were checked and accepted in last 12 months, unless there has been known issues that could potentially implicate the initial clearance.