Students Staff
University of Essex

May 1, 2020

An update on research spend

In light of the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on our budgets a number of questions have arisen about spending for research. Our Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), Professor Christine Raines, tells us more.

Can I spend funds from external research grants?
Yes, there is no change to spend on external research grants and this should continue as normal, all approved costs on grants are available including, for example, appointment of research and professional services staff or externally funded extensions to contracts (these require financial and HR approvals), purchase of equipment and consumables and attendance at conferences (virtual while travel not permitted). The REF census date for spend on research grants is still 31 July 2020 and it would helpful to maximise legitimate spend on grants before 31July. This in turn will also help with Indirect Costs Returned (ICR) generation.

Can I advertise posts funded by external grants during the pandemic and throughout next academic year?
Yes, externally funded posts on research grants can be advertised as per the funding application. To ensure this process runs smoothly, colleagues need to include the text “EXTERNAL FUNDING” and the FUNDER’S NAME, in block capitals in the “Case for Position” section of the “Request to Recruit – Grant Funded (REO)” form found in Unit 4. This will enable our colleagues in People and Culture to identify the roles that can still be recruited to and will prevent any potential delays in the recruitment process.

The University has an established redeployment process to support staff who are at risk of redundancy in applying for other roles that become available within the University. Staff on the redeployment register will be notified of external grant-funded posts when they are advertised. All offers must be approved by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (academic) or Registrar and Secretary (professional service).

Can funds obtained for teaching buy out be drawn on?
a. Yes, if the research funds obtained have a specified budget line for staff buy-out from teaching as per the request in the application.

b. If the funds obtained are to cover Academic time on a research grant to undertake or manage research, a case should be made upon notification of grant success based on the revised teaching programme, areas to be covered and available existing resource. Any requests for teaching backfill in these circumstances should be made by the Head of Department to the Executive Dean for approval by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Requests should be based on the lowest cost option for delivering essential teaching. We remain committed to ensuring Principal Investigators are able to fulfil the research time commitments detailed in the research bid and that departments are able to manage any subsequent teaching need.

Can I continue to spend the funds in my Education and Research Incentive Account (ERIA)?
Yes, any funds held in ERIA accounts will continue to be available to support excellence in research, but should be restricted for essential, time sensitive activities. For example, costs of carrying out time-sensitive pandemic-related research during the period from now until the 31 July 2020. ERIA funds roll over from one financial year into the next and any funds not spent during 2019-20 are guaranteed to remain available during 2020-21. There is no need to spend up these funds before 31 July 2020. Furthermore, as the Vice-Chancellor explained in his email about securing our future, moving expenditure into next academic year wherever possible will help us to avoid returning an accounting deficit in 2019-20. For this reason, wherever possible, it would be better to move this spend to 2020-21, but it will remain available for staff to use in support of time sensitive research activities if needed.

Can my department continue to spend Department Operating Budget on research activities in 2019-20?
Spend from Departmental Operating Budgets has been restricted since the 13 April, with only essential purchases that are mission critical for the sustainability of the University being possible. The pressure we are facing to avoid an accounting deficit in 2019-20 means that we have to limit all spending against operating budgets except where these relate to essential needs. The process for Heads of Department to make requests to meet essential needs is through the faculty accountants with approval by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. We are asking that those making requests set a high threshold on their definition of essential. The Vice-Chancellor has set out the reasons why this really matters between now and 31 July 2020.

Are internal funds available for COVID-19 research?
Yes. There are 4 potential routes to support essential COVID-19 research

a. Staff who hold external research funds should continue to draw down on these as usual.

b. Staff with access to ERIA funds should continue to use these as you have in the past, noting that where possible it would be better for spend to be accrued in 2020-21 rather than 2019-20.

c. Funding remains available for projects that could fit under either the Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) or Enabling Innovation: Research to Application (EIRA) funds.

d. If no other funding is available, and the project is time-sensitive, please contact me, providing a brief outline of the proposed research and summary of costs.

NB. ECR and junior staff who have no ERIA funds should be prioritised for alternative funding sources (provided the quality and importance of the research is competitive).

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