3. Costs we fund - MRC

Contents

3.2 Fund types

Under full economic costs (FEC), costs must be presented within four fund types in the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system proposal form – see section 1.7.1 on using Je-S. The fund heading and type will depend on the nature of the cost incurred.

Fund type Fund headings Examples

Directly incurred (DI) costs that are explicitly identifiable as arising from the conduct of a project.

Charged to projects as the cash value actually spent and supported by an auditable record.

  • DI – staff
  • DI – travel and subsistence
  • DI – equipment
  • DI – other costs
  • salary of any member of the research team – for example principal investigator, co-investigators, postdocs, technicians, statisticians, technologists, methodologists working 100% of their time on this project or where their time is supported by a full audit trail
  • consumables – includes small items of equipment costing less than £10,000 including VAT
  • consultancy fees
  • subcontractor costs
  • recruitment costs
  • equipment specific to the project – greater than £10,000 including VAT
  • costs for registering a trial in the ISRCTN registry.

Directly allocated (DA) costs of resources used by a project that are shared by other activities

Charged to projects on the basis of estimates. Do not represent directly auditable costs on a project-by-project basis.

  • DA – investigators
  • DA – estates costs
  • DA – other directly allocated – includes pool staff, infrastructure technicians and other staff
  • salary of PI and CoIs if they are working on several projects and activities
  • salary of postdocs, technicians, statisticians, technologists, methodologists working within core facilities and shared with other activities – when not included within the ROs estates or indirect cost rates
  • facility usage costs
  • estates costs – set rate agreed for each RO.
Indirect costs: RO overhead costs Indirect costs Costs of the RO’s administration such as staff, finance, library and some departmental services – set rate agreed for each RO.
Exceptions: costs that would normally come within the directly incurred heading but the research council will fund at 100% of FEC Exception – staff
Exception – travel and subsistence
Exception – other costs
  • costs incurred by overseas organisations, including salary costs and contribution towards indirect and estates costs where the research is being undertaken in a developing country
  • costs directly incurred by an MRC institute – see section 3.8 for more information
  • studentships on centre grants
  • externally contracted gene sequencing
  • externally contracted social surveys
  • biomedical catalyst calls only: certain costs in excess of £50,000 for sub-contracts with contract ROs – see section 3.6 for more information.

Costs that are not eligible include:

  • publication costs – see section 3.7 open access publishing
  • computers can be requested but we expect that the university will provide computers and laptops for research staff on continuing contracts – including PIs and CoIs
  • patent costs and other IP costs are not eligible as universities already receive funding for these from Higher Education Innovation Funding.

3.2.1 Research staff costs

MRC encourages and supports collaborative research projects and team approaches. Salaries may be sought for any member of staff who will be involved in delivering the aims and objectives of the proposed research.

This may include postdocs, research fellows, research assistants, research nurses, technicians, statisticians, technologists, methodologists (this list is not exhaustive).

The costs associated with the different members of the research team may appear as a directly incurred (DI) or directly allocated (DA) cost depending on their contribution to the project. There is no limit on the number of research staff included in a project as this will depend on the nature of the research being undertaken. However, applications will be assessed on the basis that the number of staff and their stated time commitment to the work is appropriate and sufficient. See section on researcher salary costs charged to the project.

Researchers should be included under the DI heading if the costs are actual, auditable and verifiable – for example a researcher will dedicate 100% of time to the project. Where a researcher will not work 100% of their time on one project they can still be included under the DI heading but their time needs to be supported by a full audit trail – for example timesheets or project records.

Researchers should be included under the DA heading if the time spent on the project is estimated eg a researcher working on several projects and activities.

The Je-S proposal form allows research staff to be included in three different sections. The table below shows where and how different team members should be included.

Section of Je-S proposal form Role Fund type
Investigator Principal investigator (PI)

DI if spending 100% of their time on this project or if actual time known and supported by a full audit trail – for example timesheets or project records

DA if the time spent on the project is estimated and will not be supported by an auditable record

Please note that although a PI can claim 100% of their time on one research project PIs would normally spread their time across several projects and other academic, clinical or administrative duties

Co-Investigator (CoI)

DI if spending 100% of their time on this project or if actual time known and supported by a full audit trail – for example timesheets or project records

DA if the time spent on the project is estimated and will not be supported by an auditable record

Exceptions if based overseas

Staff

Researcher

This category can include any member of the project team that is not PI or CoI (for example postdocs, research fellows, research assistants, research nurses, technicians, statisticians, technologists, methodologists etc. –this list is not exhaustive)

DI if spending 100% of their time on this project or if actual time known and supported by a full audit trail – for example timesheets or project records)

DA if the time spent on the project is estimated and will not be supported by an auditable record

Exceptions if based overseas

Technician (Not included in FTE multiplier for indirect and estates)

Can either be part of a pool of technician effort – should be included as cost per hour

or

Specific (named or unnamed) technician post

Only where not included within estates or indirect cost rates

DI if spending 100% of their time on this project OR if actual time known and supported by a full audit trail – for example timesheets or project records

DA if the time spent on the project is estimated and will not be supported by an auditable record

Other staff
Other directly allocated costs

Pool staff

Pooled staff effort is usually taken to mean access to staff effort where the specific individuals/posts work on several projects or activities

Only where NOT included within estates or indirect cost rates

DI if timesheets are in use

DA if the time spent on the project is estimated and will not be supported by an auditable record

Infrastructure technicians If the institution uses calculated infrastructure technician rates (separate from estate rates), they should be added to the proposal in the same way as estates and indirect rates, which is as a standard rate/research FTE
Other

Researcher time charged to the project: The maximum number of hours which may be charged to research council and other public-funded projects by researchers is 1,650 hours per annum (equivalent to 37.5 hours a week, 44 weeks a year). All staff information throughout the proposal should be entered using this formula when answering questions regarding percentage of time worked.

Proposals need to show the costs of time to be charged to the project by investigators (PI or CoI). This will be derived from hours on the project and relevant salary rate (which could be based on an average or pool rate). Investigator time, not cost, must be justified in the proposal.

It is the responsibility of the RO to have a process in place to monitor the time claimed by any researcher to ensure that no more than the maximum amount of time is claimed over all grants in which that individual is involved. They should also ensure that estates costs for any individual do not exceed 100% FTE across all grants by all research councils.

Research council grant terms and conditions allows researchers employed on grants six hours per week for teaching and demonstrating work. MRC has widened the range of development activities eligible under the grant conditions to support career development and future careers of researchers in science and other sectors, recognising the good practice already in place at many research organisations.

Researcher salary costs charged to the project: Salaries should be sought at a level commensurate with the skills, responsibilities and expertise necessary to carry out the proposed research activity. This must be justified in the proposal.

If an application includes provision for a named individual this should reflect their current salary and take into account their previous experience, professional contribution and research responsibilities. The level requested must be justified in the proposal.

If the proposal is to be submitted before the RO has agreed details of any pending pay revisions, the research councils expect that the proposal will be costed on the basis of the organisation’s present pay structure. Salary increments over the period of the project should be taken into account but future pay awards should not be anticipated.

Clinical trainee salaries should be costed to be commensurate with the appropriate NHS pay scale and training stage for the candidate.

Indirect and estate costs: Only individuals categorised as research staff on the proposal form attract an indirect and estate cost. Technicians and other research support staff, such as computer officers, project managers, engineers etc., are not regarded as research staff and therefore are not included in the FTE multiplier for calculating indirect and estates. The TRAC Guidance provides details.

In exceptional cases individuals employed as technicians, nurses etc. can be treated by the RO as research staff, and categorised as such on the proposal form; in such cases the staff would attract an indirect and estate cost.

Investigator’s time and salary is already wholly (100%) supported e.g via active research grants, MRC Unit/Institute funding, or single separate fellowship provided by the research councils. The application must make it clear that their time and salary has already been wholly funded (in Justification of Resources) and request zero salary (under DA).

Investigator is retired/emeritus/honorary staff: If a PI or CoI is retired/emeritus, the expectation is that their involvement in the project would be covered by a contract within the RO. Where the contract includes reimbursement of time, that cost can be included (up to a maximum equivalent of 37.5 hours a week) on the grant, usually under DI staff costs. If the investigator is not paid a salary by the RO then the application should show their hours attributed to the project but with zero salary requested. Estates and Indirect costs can be requested regardless of whether they are getting a salary/payment or not.

Where a PI is due to retire before the grant has ended, then the grant must also include details of a costed replacement for the remaining period.

PIs and CoIs whose working time is not fully funded either from other research council grants or from another source and are not paid a salary by the RO (honorary staff, for example), should show their hours attributed to the project, but with zero salary cost request.

Collaborative researchers: The MRC will consider meeting the salary costs of senior collaborative researchers, invited from a recognised centre in the UK or abroad, to work in the UK for up to one year giving full-time advice or assistance on the research project. Salaries should be included under the DI fund type and calculated in relation to staff of equivalent status in the host RO.

3.2.2 Directly incurred costs

These are any cost that is explicitly identifiable as arising from the conduct of a project. Cost will be charged as the cash value actually spent and supported by an auditable record.

3.2.2.1 Travel and subsistence

An application may include funds for travel and subsistence for staff assigned to the project where these are required by the nature of the work. Travel costs should be based on the most suitable and economical form of travel. In line with government instruction as of 24 May 2010, no travel should be undertaken by first class (by train), business class (by plane) or the equivalent thereof. All train travel should be by standard class and any flights should be at the economy rate. All applicants should actively seek best value for money where it is practical and feasible and should fully justify why the transport is required.

Costs for attendances at conferences may be included, where such attendance will be of direct benefit to the research. Conferences should, as far as possible, be individually identified in the proposal and attendance justified. We would expect funds to be requested for one UK/European conference per year, and one major international conference every other year (expecting 1 per 3-year grant and 2 per 5-year grant). Please note that costs associated with a conference where the date of the conference falls after the end date of the grant cannot be claimed.

Additional child care costs beyond that required to meet the normal contracted requirements of the job, and that are directly related to the project, may be requested if the institutional policy is to reimburse them. This may include attendance at conferences and workshops that are directly related to the project. Childcare costs associated with normal working patterns may not be sought.

The MRC will also consider requests to meet the costs of travel and living expenses for:

  • collaborative working visits on the proposed research
  • learning of special techniques

Subsistence and any catering costs for events should reflect the normal rates applying to the host RO and will need to be fully justified in the justification for resources. Alcohol can only be included if accompanying a meal.

3.2.2.2 Equipment

You may request funding for new equipment, including computers and software, the costs of equipment repairs and major spares, the costs of external maintenance agreements and the cost of equipment relocation and installation, where required by the proposed research.

Where equipment purchased under a previous MRC grant is to be used, a share of the continuing maintenance cost can be sought, unless already provided by other grant support. Equipment purchased on MRC grants may be eligible for VAT relief and exempt from import duty. If this is the case, do not include these costs.

All equipment and associated costs must be explained in the ‘Justification of Resources’ attachment.

Single items of equipment costing between £10,000 (£8.33k ex VAT) and £138k (£115k ex VAT)

Any equipment bought or leased for the project which costs £10,000 (inc. VAT) or above should be included under the DI ‘Equipment’ fund type heading. Please note the £10,000 includes all component parts of the equipment requested and some opportunities do not support equipment costing over £10,000.

Related requests over £10,000 such as refurbishment should also be included as equipment and other costs as specified in the funding opportunity.

From 1 April 2021 MRC will fund this equipment at 80% FEC, or 100% FEC for agreed exceptions. The policy on MRC and research organisation contribution levels to equipment will be reviewed after 1 year.

Single items of equipment costing over £138k (£115k ex VAT)

Should be included under the DI ‘Equipment’ fund type heading. Please note the limit includes all component parts of the equipment requested and some opportunities do not support equipment costing over £10,000.

From 1 April 2021 MRC will fund this equipment at 80% FEC, or 100% FEC for agreed exceptions.

In addition to justification of resources items of equipment above £138,000 (£115,000 excluding VAT) require a two-page business case outlining the strategic need for the equipment and three quotations for each individual item. Please see Je-S help pages or the UKRI equipment guidance document (PDF, 237KB) for more information on meeting this requirement and the business case template.

Please note where it is not possible to provide three quotes (for example due to the specialist nature of the item concerned), the RO must upload dummy quotes in addition to the actual quote(s) to enable the application to be submitted.

Equipment for instrument development

Items of equipment for instrument development can be funded at 100% FEC, although the MRC reserves the right to request institutional contributions in exceptional circumstances. Other equipment requested not related to the instrument development will be subject to standard MRC rules for equipment.

A request can be classed as instrument development where it is wholly or mainly focused on creating a novel instrument that will either enable research capability not available using any existing instrument, or will substantially improve research capability beyond what currently exists, in a way that opens up significant new scientific opportunities.

Completing equipment details

The DI equipment section should be completed as outlined below. All fields must be completed for each entry when making an application and costings should be at current prices with no allowance for inflation:

  • heading – description
  • description – a brief description of the equipment so that what is being requested can be identified
  • country of manufacture – the country where the item was manufactured
  • delivery date – please estimate this if not known
  • basic price – not including VAT
  • import duty – mark as 0 if none has been incurred
  • VAT – mark as 0 when it can be reclaimed by the RO
  • total –  total cost (excluding any VAT etc. that can be reclaimed)
  • amount sought – total amount requested (this will normally be 80% of total cost, unless instrument development or other exception such as low and middle income countries equipment).

3.2.2.3 Other costs

Other allowable costs include any costs that are explicitly identifiable as arising from the conduct of a project.

Animal costs

These costs may be shown as either DI or DA. Applications must include a breakdown of animal costs, including weekly maintenance charges, in the Je-S application form in the section ‘Resources – Animal costs’. See the relevant Je-S help page for more information.

A more detailed justification of the costs incurred should be given in the ‘justification of resources’ attachment. This should detail the total number of animals requested, and justify the resources requested for purchasing, breeding, maintaining and using the chosen number of animals. No experimental or statistical details should be included in this section  (see 2.2.3.5 reproducibility and statistical design annex).

In some cases, adherence to the principles defined in section 4 will require additional resources – for example for identification of animals by microchip, increased maintenance charges resulting from randomisation procedures, or salary costs associated with obtaining statistical support. The MRC recognises this and will support such costs where fully justified in the appropriate sections.

Sub-contractors

A subcontractor is a third party organisation, or third party person not employed on a grant, who is subcontracted by the host organisation to deliver a specific piece of work. This subcontracted work will be subject to the procurement rules of the host research organisation. All costs that support the delivery of the subcontract are eligible and will be paid at 80% of full economic cost (fEC) unless otherwise stated. These should be outlined and fully justified in the proposal and will be subject to peer review.

Dual roles

An organisation or individual may act as both a project partner and subcontractor on a project; however, this must be fully justified and will be subject to peer review. This dual role may be required, for example, when an organisation or individual is contributing to the project in kind but is selected to deliver other work to the project involving substantial costs to be covered via a subcontract.

Project partner or subcontractor entitlement to project outputs and intellectual property

Entitlement to the outputs of a project or intellectual property will be determined between the parties involved. However, any access to project outputs or intellectual property must be in line with any relevant subsidy control regulation. Any entitlements should be set out in a formal collaboration agreement, as per fEC grant condition RGC 12.1.

Following the introduction of fEC the resources for DNA sequencing requested through research grants can be supported at either 100% fEC or 80% fEC. In order to qualify for the resources to be granted at 100% fEC, the sequencing will need to be carried out through a contract to an institution or organisation ineligible to apply for MRC funding. Funds for sequencing must be applied for and will be awarded in £ sterling; any grant made will include 100% of the costs only; no indexation will be applied and no further funds will be granted for this activity to cover, for example, currency fluctuations. It is possible to request support for other activities associated with DNA sequencing such as annotation of the sequence, but in order for this to qualify for 100% fEC, it must also be undertaken by an organisation not eligible for MRC funding.

Other costs directly attributable to the project may include:

  • consumables
  • recruitment and advertising costs for staff directly employed on the project, provided they occur after the date of the award letter
  • relocation costs may be included for named staff who will be moving, provided the RO has a general policy in place to pay relocation costs and they are not already included as part of indirect costs
  • additional childcare, beyond that required to meet the normal contracted requirements of the job, and that are directly related to the project, may be requested if the institutional policy is to reimburse them. However, childcare costs associated with normal working patterns may not be sought.
  • scanning and surveys
  • cost of the International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN) registration fee
  • payments and incentives used for healthy volunteers participating in clinical research are allowable, provided that the payment is for expense, time and inconvenience and is not at a level which would induce people to take part in studies against their better judgement.

Please note that publication costs should not be included. See section 3.7 Open access publishing for more information.

3.2.3 directly allocated costs

These comprise any direct cost that will be calculated on the basis of estimates.

3.2.3.1 Estates

Estate costs provide a share of the cost of providing the physical infrastructure for research. These costs may include building and premises costs, basic services and utilities and any clerical staff and equipment maintenance or operational costs that have not been included under other cost headings.

Estates rates will be calculated by each RO using the transparent approach to costing (TRAC) methodology, so will vary between ROs and also between departments within ROs. A single figure will be required at time of application.

Only individuals categorised as research staff on the proposal form attract an estate cost. Technicians and other research support staff, such as computer officers, project managers, engineers etc., are not regarded as research staff and therefore are not included in the FTE multiplier for calculating estates costs.

Where any named individual will be working away from the RO on long-term secondment for more than six months during the project, estates costs should not be charged for the period of secondment. No reductions should be made for shorter term absences.

Where the level of staff effort to be awarded is different to that requested, the RO will be required to recalculate within 10 working days the estates and indirect costs, using the same costing basis and the TRAC rates in force at time of application.

3.2.3.2 Other directly allocated costs

These comprise all other direct costs calculated on the basis of estimates, which are not included within the ROs estates or indirect cost rates.

Items that can be included within this heading are:

  • charge out costs for use of major facilities
  • charge out costs for use of existing equipment
  • charge out costs for ‘pool staff’, departmental technical and administrative services
  • animal costs – see section 3.2.2.3.

Charge out costs will vary by RO and this will be taken into consideration during the review process.

3.2.4 Indirect costs

These include the costs of administration such as staff, finance, library and some departmental services.

Like estates, indirect costs will be calculated by the RO and a single figure is required for the application. Calculations should be made using eligible FTE in the same way as estates (see section 3.2.3.1).

Please note that indirect costs cannot be included for technicians and research support staff.

3.2.5 Exceptions

Applicants should consult with the relevant programme manager about the scientific justification of their exceptional cost and in the case of overseas CoIs, be able to demonstrate that required expertise was not available in the UK.

Applicants must also include in the proposal covering letter (to be uploaded as an attachment in their Je-S application) the name of the programme manager with whom they have discussed the proposed exceptional cost and briefly provide any further justification.

The ultimate decision will be made by the board or panel. Specific questions about MRC policy should be directed by email to: rfpd@mrc.ukri.org

Applications submitted to any of the international calls or jointly funded global initiatives are not required to do this as the vast majority of costs are likely to be exceptions.

Last updated: 15 October 2021

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