While terms and conditions will vary between funders, the core process for preparing a grant application and common issues for consideration are outlined in the sections below.
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Terms & Conditions & New Funders
Funder Terms and Conditions
Funders will provide the application guidelines for each scheme when the call for proposals is released. Principal Investigators (PIs) should pay close attention to the call details, eligibility to apply and assessment criteria, using it to develop their application. The terms and conditions of funding (financial and contractual) and any deviations from the Preferred Terms and Conditions Policy ROP-05 [pdf] are approved by the relevant College officer in line with the Approval and Authorisation Policy.
The PI and any proposed Co-Investigators and partner institutions must ensure they are eligible for the scheme before applying. Funder investigator eligibility criteria may include: minimum qualifications or academic grade, restrictions on the source of investigator’s salary funding (whether institutionally or externally funded) or a requirement to relinquish external funds if the proposal is successful.
The College has its own investigator eligibility criteria detailed in the Investigator Eligibility Policy ROP-03 [pdf]. The governing principle is that a funder’s investigator eligibility criteria will take precedence over College policy for that specific funding scheme only. Where no minimum eligibility requirements are stated by a funder, then College policy will determine the criteria.
If the College has not received funding from an organisation before, Accounts Receivable (AR) will first need to be undertake a credit check before the new funder can be set up on the College’s finance system. Faculty Research Services will also carry out an ethical assessment of the new funder. These checks must be satisfactory before an award is formally accepted.
Develop the Science Case
The proposed activity must meet the Frascati definition of research and satisfy the public benefit test i.e. the research should be conducted for the public benefit and not solely for self-interest or for private or commercial consumption. For further information see What counts as Research?
Principal Investigators should note that the College prohibits research funded by the tobacco industry and the use of classified research or materials. There are other non-standard application processes with potential for complexity which should also be considered. The proposed research should meet the ethical standards of conduct and behaviour outlined in the College’s Ethics Code, as well as giving due consideration to the collection, use and storage of data in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Please consider the impact (an effect, change or benefit beyond academia) and significance of your research proposal. Some funders may ask for a separate statement on impact, but even they do not, it is good practice to include this as part of the proposal.
The College advocates internal peer review as part of your grant application preparations. PIs should discuss any specific Peer Review requirements with their Head of Department and Departmental Manager.
Identify and Justify Resources
The research must be adequately resourced to ensure that the project is able to deliver its scientific outcomes within the proposed timeline. Depending on the terms and conditions of the funding, the Principal Investigator should give careful consideration to the following:
- Academic Staff Time - Establish realistic time commitments for academic staff involved in the research, i.e. Principal Investigator, Co-Investigator(s).
- Researchers, Technicians and Other Support Staff - Determine whether project specific researchers, technicians or administrative staff are required to deliver and support the proposed work plan.
- Consumables, Materials and Travel - Include operational costs for the project such as consumables, travel and costs for conference attendance if permissible by the funder.
- Equipment and Facilities - Requests for new equipment and associated maintenance costs should comply with funder policies. Some funders may require a departmental contribution to the costs. Future purchases may also be subject to VAT and the College’s Procurement and Tendering Regulations. Instead of purchasing new items, it may be possible to access existing equipmentby referring to the College’s Facility Directory, but note that not all funders will meet access charges for existing equipment.
- Space - Consider requirements such as laboratory and desk space, and whether the research work will incur any associated costs, e.g. external room hire, additional building works.
- Open Access Publication and Research Data Management – Depending on funder terms and conditions, consider including costs associated with Open Access and Research Data Management.
All costs should be justified within the justification of resources and case for support, establishing a clear link between the resources requested and the outcomes of the research.
Costing, Pricing and Start Date
Costings for all research projects should be prepared using the Full Economic Cost (FEC) methodology regardless of funder. The Pricing of a research project should be informed by the FEC but is not entirely within an institution’s control. In many cases, the price is set or restricted by the funder, which means the FEC must be 'translated' into a price in accordance with the funder's terms and conditions.
The main FEC cost categories are summarised below. Further details can be found on the dedicated Costing page:
- Directly Incurred (DI) Costs - Project specific costs charged to projects as the cash value actually spent, e.g. research staff costs; support staff costs; consumables; travel; equipment purchase; recruitment and advertising costs.
- Directly Allocated (DA) Costs - Shared costs charged to projects based on estimates rather than actual costs. There are 5 categories of Directly Allocated cost:
- PI and Co-I time – estimate of investigator time contributed to the project and its associated cost
- Estates – institutional rate which reflects the College’s premises-related research costs, e.g. buildings maintenance, rent, utilities, security
- Infrastructure Technician - institutional rate which reflects infrastructure support, e.g. health and safety, stores, laboratory management, equipment maintenance
- Pool Technician – institutional hourly rate for technician support provided to more than one project
- Internal Research Facilities – charge-out rates for a limited number of existing equipment and research facilities
- Indirect Costs - Non-specific research costs shared by other activities, e.g. basic laboratory consumables and Finance, HR, ICT and Library services
The Price represents what the Funder is willing to pay and what the Institution is willing to accept. It can be equal to, lower or higher than the Full Economic Cost (FEC) of undertaking the research. The pricing of a research project should be informed by the FEC, but specific project costs must not be excluded from the FEC to fit within the price available. Once the FEC of a project is established, it is the Price that will vary depending on the funder. The final price will be reviewed and checked for alignment with Funder, Faculty and College pricing policies. All proposals are therefore subject to a two-stage approval process which consists of Faculty Approval followed by College Authorisation before submission.
Unfortunately, not all funders will meet the full cost of research. Many will specify which costs are eligible and some will impose limits on the total funding available or for particular budget categories, e.g. setting a maximum cap on consumables. Others may specify or limit the inflationary percentage applied to staff and non-staff costs (which may be lower than the actual percentage used to calculate costs under FEC methodology) or require a departmental contribution towards specific costs such as equipment.
In cases where the project cost (FEC) will exceed the Price imposed by the funder, it is important to consider the financial impact on the project before a proposal is submitted. Example considerations include:
- Are funding opportunities from other funders or schemes more suitable?
- Can the scientific case be amended to deliver an alternative project with reduced costs?
- Can staff be appointed for a shorter duration to reduce the salary cost?
- Will the funder consider requests for supplementary funding?
- Has the estimated shortfall been discussed with the Department to agree how it might be covered?
Possible options and mitigating actions should be discussed with the Department at the earliest opportunity because funding shortfalls will not be covered centrally by the College.
When selecting a proposed start date, it is important to ensure that the start date and project duration are realistic. Take account of the funder’s decision-making timeline and allow sufficient time to advertise and recruit staff and to obtain the necessary ethical and/or regulatory approvals if applicable. A minimum of 6 to 9 months is recommended between the funder deadline date and proposed start date, but always check the funder’s specific details.
In some cases, a funder may specify a fixed start date as part of the funding call. If the start date is not feasible, there is a risk that the project will not commence on time as the funder expects. Consider if the research outcomes can be delivered within the time available or whether the scientific case can be amended to accommodate the specified start date. If not, it is prudent to seek a more suitable funding opportunity.
Multi-Department and Multi-Institutional Proposals
- Multi-department proposals - Where a project is being undertaken by more than one College department, each discrete budget should be costed via a separate subproject to allow the Co-Investigator to manage their share of the overall costs.
- Multi-Institutional Proposals – Where a project is being undertaken by more than one institution, a nominated ‘lead’ institution will usually be responsible for submitting a single joint application to the funder. The lead institution will obtain costs for Research Partners or Professional Fees which must be properly authorised by the third party organisation (e.g. their Research Services office or equivalent). The costs should be provided in the format, currency and at the level of detail required by the Funder so that each institution’s costs can be entered easily onto the funder’s application form. If successful, the funder will treat the award as joint funding, but from an administrative perspective, the lead institution will coordinate the award and transfer funds to research partners and other third parties involved. Where the College is acting as ‘lead’, costs cannot be calculated on behalf of partner organisations because each institution’s costs are different.
Assess Partner Suitability
For each new proposal, Principal Investigators should ensure that proposed research partners and collaborators meet the College’s expected ethical standards of conduct and behaviour even if there is a prior working relationship with the organisation or individual.
Many of the College’s main funders require lead institutions to carry out Due Diligence checks on third parties undertaking grant-funded activities to evaluate the risk of collaboration and determine the partner’s ability to deliver the planned work programme. These assessments are particularly important if the proposed work involves potentially higher risk organisations (UK and Overseas).
Prepare Supporting Documents
Applicants should read the funder guidelines carefully to ensure all required documents are provided in the correct format. Additional documents may include CVs, publication lists and supporting statements from the institution or Head of Department.
Funders may specify font size, font type, margin size and limits to page numbers for each supporting document. Failure to comply may mean an application is returned for further amendment or even rejected at an early stage of assessment.
As a minimum, the following documentation should be provided to departments and Faculty Research Services teams to facilitate the internal review of proposals before approval can be granted:
- Application form
- Research plan (if not included in the application)
- Funding call guidance / funder’s terms and conditions
- Costing and pricing information
Institutional Letters of Support
Some funders or funding schemes will require an institutional letter of support from the Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise), President or Provost. The Funding Strategy team in the Research Office will support the internal process for obtaining this, but institutional contributions or commitments should never be presumed. Further information can be found on the Institutional Letters of Support webpage.
Data Management Plans
College policy requires a Data Management Plan (DMP) to accompany every grant application regardless of funder requirements, although many funders now require a DMP as part of the application. The Principal Investigator is responsible for ensuring the DMP is appropriate for the research proposed and that data collected complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Further guidance can be found on the How to Complete a Data Management Plan webpage.
Research Culture and Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) statements
Some research funders now request specific statements on research culture or Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) as part of the proposal submission. Even if there is no specific requirement for separate statements, funders are starting to expect consideration of research culture and EDI within management plans. As part of the efforts to embed a positive research culture within Imperial, staff have access to a Research Culture Toolkit (staff log in only) to help them implement change both as part of their research proposals and within their own research environment. The toolkit aims to support applicants to articulate Imperial’s positive research culture and present the policies, practices and initiatives that Imperial already has in place or is developing, in a way that is relevant to the context of their own proposals. It is important that applicants think about these issues in terms of how they run their projects and groups, and appreciate the value of implementing a positive research culture. The pursuit of a positive research culture at Imperial comes from the ground up as well as from the top down.
Approval and Submission
Before submission of a proposal for research funding or the execution of a research contract, a two stage approval process must be followed which consists of Faculty Approval followed by College Authorisation.
- Faculty Approval is delegated firstly to the Head of Department. Where the Head of Department is also the Principal Investigator, then approval should be escalated to the Faculty Dean or their Deputy. Research proposals and contracts which involve multiple departments and/or Faculties must receive Faculty Approval from all parties.
- College Authorisation is delegated to Faculty Research Services and Faculty Contracts teams and will only be given after the Faculty Approval process has been completed.
Each department and Faculty Research Services team will require a minimum period of time to review a proposal before approvals can be granted. Provide sufficient notice to ensure that approvers are made aware of upcoming proposals and can allocate enough time to review them. In some cases, a proposal may require additional amendments before final submission to the funder. Further guidance can be found on the Approval and Authorisation webpage.
PIs should check the funder’s guidance on how to submit their proposal. Many funders now use electronic submission systems and applicants may need to register for a user account. For some systems, the user account must also be validated by the institution. Remember that even if a funder uses an electronic submission system, the College’s internal authorisation process must still be followed. Further guidance can be found on the Electronic Submission Systems webpage.
Useful College Information
Some funders require applicants to provide information about the College’s governance, policies and regulations. The Imperial College London General Information Sheet [PDF] contains links to the relevant sections of the College website which can be shared directly with funders.
The College also maintains registrations with a number of US regulatory bodies which is a requirement for submitting proposals to US Federal Agencies. This information is listed in the US Applications - Registration Numbers [PDF] [PDF] document.