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 College's 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 ensure 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.
Many funders require the College to undertake due diligence on any third parties associated with the research which includes the identification, assessment and mitigation of risks associated with the relationship. The Research Office Due Diligence process outlines the responsibilities for managing due diligence assessments of third parties at both Pre-Award and Post-Award stages.
Research Partner or Professional Fees?
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 it is. This is detailed in the Research Partners and Professional Fees guidance document and summarised below:
Research Partner or Professional Fees?
Why is this definition important?
Where a project is being undertaken by a number of institutions the lead institution will coordinate the award and transfer funds to research partners and other third parties involved. Where the College is the lead institution, only the income which relates to the work undertaken by the College can be counted as the College's research grants and contracts 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.
Research Partner Definition
A Research partner will independently undertake part of the project work which must meet the Frascati definition of research. Research Partner costs are never subject to VAT and are exempt from the College Purchasing Policy. The College disregards the income allocated against Research Partners from its Research Volume. Three categories of Research Partner are available:
- Research Partners - UK Universities
- Research Partners – CEC (i.e. European Commission) [Used for all Research Partners on CEC funded awards]
- Research Partners - Other
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 and there may be a requirement to obtain quotes or tenders as per the College’s Purchasing Policy. Their work will not meet the Frascati definition of research. The College reports all Professional Fees income in its own annual accounts. 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
Why is the location of the third party important?
It is important to consider any potential risks resulting from the location of the third party organisation and the wider political and economic status and stability of the host country, as well as the safety of Imperial staff and local workers employed by the project. Travel to certain countries may be restricted and it may not be possible to transfer funds to countries if they are subject to sanctions or embargoes.