Frequently asked questions about our research

Here you'll find answers to questions that staff and research students most often ask us.

If you have any other questions, please email [email protected]

Costing and budgets

Does research make a profit?
No, not generally. Research consultancy, where we provide a service, may well offer an opportunity for profit but most research applications do not allow a Faculty mark-up for research. Once we're successful, we have to provide an audit trail of expenditure and it's not possible or ethical to 'hide' a profit in this.

A research project should hopefully break even, but if funded by a charitable organisation or one not using full economic cost (fEC), it will need to be underpinned by other funding.

What happens to all the information we provide in the TRAC Time Allocation Survey?
This information is important in identifying what proportion of time academic staff spend on different activities (research, teaching, other). The proportion of time each you spend on research is used to calculate the full-time equivalent (FTE) number of research-active staff in our University; this figure is then used to calculate the indirect and estates rate on a per FTE basis.

What is financial sustainability?
The definition of sustainability from the TRAC Overview (June 2005) is:

"An institution is being managed on a sustainable basis if, taking one year with another, it is recovering its full economic costs across its activities as a whole, and is investing in its infrastructure... at a rate adequate to maintain its future productive capacity."

It also offers an alternative, simpler definition:

"...the institution needs to do the activity today in a way which will not threaten its ability to do it in future."

So, it is not sufficient to balance the books while carrying on current activities; an institution must also be able to maintain its infrastructure and employ enough staff to allow such activity to continue in the future.

Which funders pay the full economic cost?
The Research Councils pay 80% of fEC, and most Government departments should pay up to 100%. Charities have said that they will not pay the fEC, but it may be possible to apply for more individual direct costs, such as facilities use. Industrial funders should be encouraged to pay in full but that is subject to negotiation.

My funder doesn’t use full economic costing. Why do I need to complete the form?
We have to show the full cost of doing research, even if we can’t actually claim all those costs from the funder. The costs have to be covered by your Faculty, so we have to show them potentially what they might need to support if you were successful. That way they can match their departmental budgets to possible wins.

If a company wants to pay for some research work but won't pay the full cost, will the University accept a lower price? Can we negotiate?
If you're dealing with a commercial funder you (or whoever is negotiating for you) should attempt to get the full economic cost. This is especially important where the company has an interest in owning potentially valuable intellectual property which may be an outcome of a project. It's certainly not intended that anyone should feel they cannot perform below-fEC work if there are benefits other than financial involved.

Can I charge more than the full economic cost if I think the market price for the work is higher than the cost, or if I think the funder will be willing to pay?
Yes, you can and should charge a price over and above the cost for research where you're able to, particularly when dealing with commercial bodies. You may find it better when dealing with such funders to quote a fixed price for the job, or a higher-than-fEC daily rate. Normally you do not need to itemise your costs for an industrial funder unless they ask you to.

If the funder is only paying 80% of fEC, where will the missing 20% for my project's direct costs come from?
You'll have 100% of your direct costs available to spend. The missing 20% is our University's own contribution to the work and will be partly funded out of the HEFCE QR (Quality Research) fund. QR is allocated to universities on the basis of their results in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014. The remainder is from unused indirect costs from other successful bids.

All income from a successful bid passes to the relevant Faculty. However, Anglia Ruskin does apply an overhead calculation against the research project (usually at the end of the financial year) which will be a charge against the project for overhead costs, thereby reducing the remaining available monies for the project.

Isn't the University getting paid twice for academic salaries? Once through the block grant and again when we're claiming for academic time on grants? Aren't we double counting?
We don't receive enough through the QR funding for research to fully cover the cost of the relevant proportion of academic staff time devoted to research activity. The TRAC/fEC rules and the Research Councils insist that academic staff time must be included as a cost of research.

How can academic staff estimate the time they will spend working on a project?
You need to consider the various tasks that are performed as part of a research project: participating in and/or overseeing the project work, managing and supervising staff, writing technical reports (including the final report for Research Councils and other funders which require this), presenting findings at conferences and other dissemination work, etc. 

Think about how much time you'll spend on each aspect and try to average this out as a number of hours per week. The amount of time to be spent will need to be justified to the Research Councils as part of your proposal.

What do indirect costs include and how are they calculated?
The indirect cost rate includes all University central costs, such as the library, computing, central administration including HR, and support and administration in academic departments. 

Indirect costs are based on a fixed annual rate which is updated annually on 1 February. Following TRAC guidelines, the rate is arrived at by collating all these costs as they relate to research activity in the previous financial year, indexing them, and dividing the total figure by the number of research-active academic and research staff in the University to arrive at a flat rate per person. The number of research-active academic staff is arrived at by way of the time allocation survey.

What do estates costs include and how are they calculated?
The estates rate is calculated in the same way as indirect costs, but there are two different rates depending on whether a department is designated as lab-based or not. Costs comprise space charges including energy costs, maintenance and depreciation of equipment, insurance, infrastructure charges and facilities costs.

What drives indirect and estates costs on projects?
These costs are driven by the FTE academic and research staff per year on the project, ie they're based on staff time, not cost. As explained, the indirect and estates rates are a per-person per year flat rate. So if there is a full-time RA and 20% of academic staff time devoted to the project, the rates will be multiplied by 1.2 per project year. Multi-year projects will have indexation applied to the rates.

I want to be 'bought out' of teaching while I do my research. How can I do this under fEC?
If you're applying to a Research Council, your directly allocated cost is exactly for this. Some funders will allow you to estimate replacement teaching, depending on the scheme. Do check if this is at your salary rate or that of an HPL. In cases where replacement teaching isn’t covered, speak with your Head of Department as they'll need to cover it.


How long before a deadline should I give you my research project for approval?
Completed applications (including the final application forms, case for support, any additional documentation required by the funder, an fEC costing and risk assessment) should be submitted to Research Services at least five working days before the deadline.

Why do we need five working days to review and approve applications?
Research Services looks at the whole research grant application. We need time to make sure that:

  • your application conforms to the funder's eligibility and scheme requirements
  • the project has been costed appropriately
  • spelling and grammar have been checked and corrected
  • all the sections requested have been completed
  • peer review via the Faculty has been offered
  • all supporting documentation is included
  • collaborating departments, partners and institutions have approved their contributions
  • ethical and risk issues have been considered
  • submissions are co-ordinated where the funder only allows a certain number of applications per institution
  • the correct approvals have been sought and obtained in faculties and through the Vice Chancellors Group if necessary.

When should I involve my department?
As soon as possible. Support from your department or institute is extremely important in the preparation and approval of your project. All applications and associated costs must be reviewed and approved by your Head of Department or institute's director, as well as the Dean.

What if I have less than five working days for the Research and Innovation Funding Development team to review and approve my application?
We understand that sometimes you can’t submit your project with five working days' notice. Generally, we'll do our best to get it done as soon as possible; however, if we're really busy with other applications they have to take priority.

If there is no time to really look at your application we'll let you and the Dean know that we haven’t been able to check every part. The Dean may wish to approve the application for submission, or they could decide to not to submit.

I need to submit online – what should I do?
Most funders use online systems and we're members of most of these, but do check with us in case we need to add any approvers. Some systems can notify us if you're using them, but as always the best thing to do is email [email protected]

Each funder can use a different online system, so please read the guidance they provide. Some may ask you to fill in a basic set of information and add attachments, some may ask you to put all the information in their system, and some may ask for a combination of both.

The main difference between postal and electronic systems is the final approval. Although Research Services may be asked to sign a postal application, the Principal Investigator is responsible for the actual submission. Electronic systems, however, require electronic approval by us, as well as by heads of departments in some cases, and are usually the final step in the submission process.

Peer review

Do I have to have my project peer reviewed?
In short, no: we use a soft-touch approach to peer review. However, a second or third pair of eyes on a bid will only improve it, so it really is in your best interests.