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.
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. Guidance is provided for funding under three headings, with key contacts set out in the table 1 below:
Competitive Research Funding
The following workflow sets out processes and internal deadlines that will apply in most normal circumstances. The purpose is to ensure that:
Colleagues in Research and Knowledge Exchange (RKE) and Finance have time to give the best possible service to applicants.
Applicants have the opportunity to engage fully with the peer review process.
Informed decisions are made with respect to matched funding, costing and donors, and that any 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 (see Table 1) as soon as possible to discuss, and to agree specific deadlines.
Major Research Funders, their priorities and funding opportunities
Applicants who are preparing bids for research funding may make their first point of contact either through the 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 Aston's research costing and pricing system 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 any matched funding, completing due diligence re industrial funder/donor and a letter of support.
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:
Proposal development, including working with non-Aston partners where relevant (academics/RKE).
Formative peer review (RKE lead) working with academics within and beyond the host school):
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.
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).
Matched funding requirements from the School/University (academic or RKE led in discussion with ADR/Executive Dean/PVC-R/Finance). This will require the completion of a matched funding application form.
Industrial/business contributions – cash or in-kind (academic, RKE or DARO lead).
- Contract development – prior to submission the applicant should discuss with the Awards and Contracts Specialist whether an NDA and/or an MoU is required.
Letters of support (academic or RKE lead).
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/School research lead)
ii. Industry funder/donor approved, match-funding confirmed and approved by School/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
Research Proposal Approval (RPA)
At this stage, if a team approach has been taken, all questions should have been answered, issues dealt with and corrections made.
Finance to sign RPA
RKE to sign RPA (Research (SFM); KE (John Richards); Donations (Christian Dickens))
ADR/Executive Dean to sign RPA
Over £1m Chief Operating Officer to sign RPA/Over £2m Vice-Chancellor to sign RPA/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:
- 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 Directors of major Research Facilities.
- Business Development Manager liaises with Research Finance Manager for costing (100% FEC for collaborative research, 120% FEC for contract research).
- Business Development Manager or Awards and Contracts Specialist downloads the latest template which must be downloaded “fresh” from the Office for the General Council (OCG) webpage https://www2.aston.ac.uk/staff/legal-services/template-agreements on every occasion.
- 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.
- For clinical contracts, the contract should also be checked by OGC, Insurance and Research Integrity Manager.
- Confirm the other party is compliant with Aston’s policy on acceptance of funding where reputational or ethical challenges arise policy
- Credit check completed (by the Commercial Credit Controller firstname.lastname@example.org) to determine if the company has the funds to support the contract and to determine the invoicing terms.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- The final version is checked by an RKE Director as part of the RPA form 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.
A scan of the signed agreement is saved on the RKE shared drive, and is sent to the third party. The RPA form, 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 project status to awarded (stage 11) on ARCP.
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 RPA process (this is regardless of the funding amount). RKE’s RPA process assesses the financial implications arising from accepting funding (e.g. matched funding, overheads, VAT etc.)
- 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 (i.e. Research Proposal Approval (RPA)) and then can be progressed to the signing of an appropriate agreement with the funder in accordance with Aston University contractual procedures.
- 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 (i.e. Research Proposal Approval (RPA)).
- 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 (i.e. Research Proposal Approval (RPA)).
- Donors that were checked and accepted in last 12 months, unless there has been known issues that could potentially implicate the initial clearance.
Table 1: Key Contacts for Pre-award Workflow for Research Funding