Handshake (by Fergus Burnett, Imperial College London)

Many research projects will involve working with new and existing external partners who are responsible for delivering aspects of the overall programme. In line with the Relationship Review Policy, researchers should ensure that all third-party relationships support the College's mission and strategic aims while being consistent with Imperial’s overall objectives.

It is important to consider the ethical implications of any relationships formed and ensue that the relationship does not:

  • Compromise the College’s status as an independent institution
  • Create material conflicts of interest
  • Arise, in whole or in part, from illegal activity that might include: Tax evasion, fraud, bribery, or the violation of international conventions on human rights, the environment and UK sanctions laws.

When defining the project responsibilities of a third party, there is an important difference between a research partner and professional fees which will affect the treatment of payments to them Categorisation is dependent on the nature of the work being undertaken by the third party organisation - not the type of organisation. This is detailed in the Research Office guidance document and summarised below:

Research Partner or Professional Fees?

Professional Fees Definition

This is a third party that charges professional fees for the provision of discrete services specified and directed by the College., They will charge VAT unless there is a clear reason for VAT not to apply. Their work will not meet the Frascati definition of research. Two categories of Professional Fees are available:

  • Professional Fees Other – used when a VAT charge is expected.
  • Non-VATable Professional Fees – only used when a specific  VAT exception applies

Research Partner Definition

A Research partner will independently undertake part of the project work which must  meet the Frascati definition of research. Three categories of Research Partner are available:

  • Research Partners - UK Universities
  • Research Partners – CEC (i.e. European Commission)
  • Research Partners - Other

Why is this important?

Where a project is being undertaken by a number of institutions and the College is the lead institution, only the income which relates to the work undertaken by the College can be included as College income. However, if the College subcontracts work to a third party, then all the income can be reported as belonging to the College. The accuracy of third party categorisation is subject to periodic audits by Research England.