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Preparing a proposal

There are a number of elements vital to the development of a successful research proposal. The most important element however is time – a rushed application has a very limited chance of success.

As such, once a funding opportunity has been identified it is important to inform your faculty research support officer of your intention to submit a bid.

Additionally, it is important to inform your Associate Dean for Research and Knowledge Transfer (ADRKT) and your Head of School / Line Manager.

The details required at this stage include: -

Bradford Details

  • PI Name and School / Faculty    
  • Project Title       
  • Funder Name   
  • Funder Scheme               
  • Funder/Scheme URL     
  • Proposed Start Date      
  • Project Duration              
  • Deadline for Application              
  • Lead organisation status
  • Partner Organisations
  • Joint / Combined application process

Collaborations with Other Universities / Institutes

Planning a research bid requires consideration of a number of elements, but the MOST important thing is to review the funder priorities and the call guidance. This cannot be stressed enough, as the funder usually provides a significant amount of information intended to allow bid authors to structure their application to maximise the chances of success. Failure to follow the funder guidelines will automatically disqualify the bid, resulting in significant wasted effort and resources.

The Process

The PI is ultimately responsible for the bid development and completion of all process documentation but must seek faculty approval BEFORE any bid application is submitted.

It is important to identify the application process, the funding structure, and the documents required to comprise a complete application well in advance of the submission deadline.

Letters of support are often required from the University to demonstrate commitment and a willingness to engage with the necessary funder criteria to maximise the effectiveness of the funding opportunity.

Such letters should be signed by Heads of Section / Deans of Faculty or Senior University Staff (VC, DVC or PVC) in order to bring the required level of gravitas to the proposal.  It is typical for the PI to draft the letter with support from the RSO and then submit this to the appropriate person for signature - do NOT leave this until just before the deadline.

The same can be said about any letters of support required form partners or industry – the sooner such letters are developed and accepted the better for all involved.

The PI and academic colleagues should prepare the research bid text in collaboration with the RSO, iterating the bid text to maximise potential for success and adherence to funder guidelines. There is an expectation that this will result in iterations of the fEC model for the project as resources are identified or removed. There is an expectation that additional academic colleagues outside of the bid team will be used to review and comment on the bid development, providing feedback and support where necessary.

All bids MUST be peer reviewed for technical and language clarity prior to submission

Ethics checklist should be completed before the bid is submitted to prevent future issues from hampering project progression. A full ethics review may be required before submission depending on the nature of the work, so it is essential to prioritise this early in the bid development process.

Bids should be resourced and appropriately costed. Your faculty RSO and Finance Manager will be able to assist with these processes. Please refer to funder guidelines for eligibility criteria.

Where there is a potential for IP creation, it is advisable to consult with the University IP team prior to submission.

The submission method and the deadline must be identified and all involved informed of the necessary details. Where a portal submission system is used, your faculty RSO should be added and provided appropriate levels of access.

A Project Approval Form (PAF) MUST be completed for all projects and must be submitted to RKTS along with a copy of the final submitted version for the application. This MUST be signed by the PI, the Head of School or ADRKT and the Faculty Finance Manager.

Successful Projects

Assuming the bid is successful, no activity can commence until the appropriate collaboration agreements have been reviewed and authorised.

The PI in collaboration with the Faculty RSO will liaise with the Funder, any partners (academic and Industrial) and the University legal team to develop and review any collaboration agreements. Agreements can only be signed by SMT personnel (VC / DVC / PVC / Head of Finance)

Research Finance will set up a cost code and can assist with Post-Award project management, However, The PI maintains full responsibility and accountability for any and all spend on the project, and can access the accounts records at any point in the project lifetime via Collaborative Planner (training is provided by Finance-Research.

PI and Human Resources work to develop Job specifications, submit for review and ultimately look to appoint from internal (redeployment) or external applicants.

Project amendments during the lifetime are achieved in combination with RKTS, Finance-Research and the PI. The RSO typically contacts the funder to request changes to the project as determined by the PI and Finance-Research. Feedback is relayed and the RSO co-ordinates any new contracting required with the legal team.

Consumable purchases are conducted by collaboration between the PI, Finance-Research and if appropriate the Purchasing office.

Peer Review journals are submitted by the PI / Co-I’s and APC (Article Processing charges) are paid either by Purchasing in collaboration with Library and Finance-Research (depending on funder and value) or via RKTS (RCUK

At project end, the PI and Finance-Research meet to discuss project closure, ensuring that all deliverables have been met to the funders requirements and all reports have been submitted. Where this is not the case, Dean/HoS and AD-RKT may be involved to determine appropriate actions. Assuming there are no issues to address, the final project balance is generated and final claims are submitted for reimbursement. In cases where funders have provided funds up-front, any unspent funds are returned.

Project Resources

Running in parallel with the actual bid development, the PI should begin to develop a resource plan. This should include levels of staffing and material resources required to deliver the project successfully. There is an element of terminology around staff resourcing, and different sponsors will fund at different rates.

  • UK Research Councils will fund all costs at 80% of the Full Economic Cost.
  • Most Charities will fund directly incurred costs at 100% but will not fund allocated or indirect costs.
  • The EU will fund all Directly incurred and Allocated costs and will make a contribution towards the indirect charges associated with Full Economic costing.

It is important that the resourcing is realistic to the project deliverables – asking for too much or too little is a quick way to ensure your bid is rejected and ALL resources requested MUST be justified and eligible (see call guidance for details of eligibility)

Staff Costs - The PI & Co-I (Directly Allocated Staff Costs)

Consider how much time you and your academic colleagues will need to deliver the project. This must be realistic and needs to detail actual activities undertaken by the PI/Co-I.

Include in your estimations: -

  • Staff Supervision Time
  • Project Management Time Allocation
  • Research Progress Meetings – Internal
  • Research Meetings – External with partners
  • Conference Attendance
  • PI/Co-I Direct Research activity
  • Preparation of peer-review journal articles
  • Administration - as required

For information, remember that the Full Economic Cost model is based upon 1,650 hours per year and you must ensure that your commitment fits within the Workload Model agreed in your faculty or centre.

Some funders (Charity, etc) will not pay for DA staff time, but will contribute towards what is called Teaching Buyout. Please check the funder guidance and with your research support contact for eligibility.

Staff Costs - Research Staff (Directly Incurred Staff Costs)

Depending on the nature of the project work, you may need to recruit research staff and technicians to work on the project. Again, these must be justified and their work packages clearly defined.

They will typically have unique skill-sets and should the following information should be considered when including DI Staff costs

  • Who will you be recruiting? Research Staff, Project Managers and/or Technicians?
  • Do you require one set of skills for the duration of the grant or will you require different skills as the project develops?  Will this mean that you will need to recruit to different roles?
    • Research Assistants (non-PhD qualified) = Grade 7, spine points 27-33
    • Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PhD Qualified) = Grade 8, Spine points 32 – 37
    • There are two template job descriptions held on the HR system, Service Now. These templates are available for a Research Assistant (grade 7) and Post-Doctoral Research Assistant (grade 8) that cover most research roles.
  • The RSA process will need to be initiated after submission of the application to ensure staff can be appointed within the appropriate timeframe. The RSA approval process normally takes four to six weeks to complete.
  • It is important to identify staff currently at the University who may be suitable appointments prior to the job advertisement being advertised externally.
  • Your HR team can provide advice and guidance in relation to the level of role that you require.

Bradford HR ServiceNow RSA  -

Other Directly Incurred Costs

Typically referred to as consumables and travel, the category “Other DI costs” is a catch all term to indicate costs which will be incurred (and thus spent) during the lifetime of the project.

Eligibility details for the different categories can be found in the funder guidance, but the lists below provide some indicators as to where resources may be required.

1.    Do you need new items of Equipment?

For RCUK Projects equipment that costs (other rules apply for EU and Charity funded projects)

  • Below £10,000 (including VAT where applicable) will be funded at 80%

  • Between £10,000 and £99,999 (including VAT where applicable) will be funded at 50%
  • Larger (Capital) equipment is often subject to different rules than other DI costs – again refer to the funder eligibility guidance.

2.    What Consumables/research costs do you require?

Depending on funder rules this can include: -

  • Consumables / Materials / Reagents / etc.
  • equipment-related items (if not included as part of the Universities estates costs),
    • e.g. maintenance (external contracts/agreements).
    • relocation.
    • rental charges (specify equipment or service being used and basis of charging)
  • glass house consumables
  • Survey/transcribing costs - only items for external surveys costing less than £10,000 (including VAT)
  • Books, Specialist publications (not expected in institutional Libraries). 

  • Fieldwork fees/subjects/informants/focus groups. 

  • Software licences dedicated to the project.
  • consultancy fees.
  • field work fees/subjects/informants.  
  • computing - include recurrent costs of computing dedicated to each project only, e.g. software licenses. Do not include any costs associated with the use of the Universities central computing facilities.
  • recruitment and advertising costs for staff directly employed on the project
  • purchase/hire/running costs of vehicles if necessary for the project
  • Sub-contracting
  • Specialist publications (not expected in institutional libraries)
  • Market Assessment (Follow-on Funding only)
  • Relocation costs may be included for named staff who will be moving, provided the University has a general policy in place to pay relocation costs and they are not already included as part of indirect costs.
  • Purchase/hire/running costs of vehicles if necessary for the project
  • Publication costs for outputs such as monographs, critical editions, volumes and catalogues
    • Note : Publication costs (Article Processing Charges – APC’s) for peer review journal articles and peer reviewed conference papers will not be eligible for RCUK funders.
  • Childcare costs beyond that required to meet the normal contracted requirements of the job, and that are directly related to the project, may be requested as a directly incurred cost if the institutional policy is to reimburse them. However, childcare costs associated with normal working patterns may not be sought.
  • Insurance costs are expected to be included as part of indirect costs, but may be requested as directly incurred costs where it can be shown that the cost arises specifically as a result of the project funded by the grant, is not covered by existing institutional policies, and is separately identifiable and audited.
  • Redundancy costs – if eligible (Contact Finance/RKTS)

3.    What travel costs will the project incur?

This should include UK and international travel examples include

  • Steering group travel
  • Conferences
  • Participant travel
  • Field trip
  • Visas
  • Sustenance / Expenses incurred

4.    Analytical Centre Costs / Lab & Facilities Charges / Animal Husbandry (BSU) Costs

  • Equipment / Instruments in the central labs can be recharged to research projects on the basis of use and should be included in the research project application with the exception of Research Council awards.
  • In the case of Research Council projects – the cost of using the Analytical Centre cannot be added as a direct cost (under fEC it is included in the estates rates) but the use of equipment / Instruments will still be recharged to on the basis of use and will be funded from the estates & indirect rates on the project.
  • If you require the services of the BSU please contact the centre manager for the costs.
  • Open Access costs - the University expects ALL publications to be made open access, where eligible please include Open Access Publishing Costs.  For further information please contact the library
  • Dissemination events – will you hold any public engagement events?

5.    How are you disseminating your research outputs?

  • Open Access costs - the University expects ALL publications to be made open access, where eligible please include Open Access Publishing Costs.  For further information please contact the library
  • Dissemination events – will you hold any public engagement events?

Estates and Indirect Costs

The Full Economic cost model includes charges for Estates and Indirect costs – there are calculated by your Faculty Finance Manager based on a headcount formula - each proportion of a person’s time dedicated to a project carries a set amount of Estates and Indirect Charges.

Completion of the PAF will enable your faculty Finance Manager to calculate the appropriate values, and details of cost eligibility can be found in the funder’s guidance

The PAF (Project Approval Form)

The Project Approval Form is designed to ensure that all bids: -

1)      Have been assigned the appropriate resources to ensure successful completion.

2)      Have been appropriately costed, relative to funder and fEC criteria.

3)      That the proposal presents the best possibility for success

4)      That the proposal has been reviewed by senior staff within the school

5)      That the proposal fits with the school and faculty strategic plan.

Specifically, the PAF contains sections as shown below, which require signatures to confirm acceptance.

As APPLICANT your signature indicates that:
a) all costs have been disclosed and that the project will not incur any additional expenditure to the University of Bradford.
b) if your application is successful, any necessary ethical approval will be sought and that the project will be conducted following the T&Cs of the University’s Code of Practice for Ethics in Research.
c) your application provides the maximum cost recovery applicable and that, where possible, all costs will been claimed for.
d) the University’s Procedure for the completion of application forms to external funders has been followed.
e) work on this project will not be undertaken until the offer has been formally accepted / contract has been duly signed by an 'authorised' signatory of the University (RKTS will advise), and acknowledgement that the University reserves the right to refuse any offer / contract for this project.

As DEAN (or authorised delegate) your signature indicates that:
a) if the application is successful, any necessary ethical approval will be sought, and the project will be conducted following the T&Cs of the University’s Code of Practice for Ethics in Research.
b) the application provides the maximum cost recovery and that, where possible, all costs have been claimed for.
c) the University’s Procedure for The Completion of Application Forms to External Funders has been followed.
d) the application has received the support of the School and fits within the School’s allocation of resources and research strategy.
e) any negative difference between fEC and the awarded amount (price) will be met by the School.
f) the application is of a quality suitable for consideration by an external body.

The PAF requires four signatures, and the order of signatures typically follows as such: -

1)      The PI – who confirms that the project has approval and is appropriately resources

2)      The Faculty Management Accountant (FMA) - Who confirms that the project is appropriately costed based on details provided by the PI

3)      The Dean (or nominated other e.g. HoS) - Who confirms that they have had sight of the final document, are happy with the resource allocation and support any below fEC recovery against the core faculty budget.

4)      Research Support Officer (RSO) – who confirms that the application has been submitted in accordance with University and funder regulations.

The PAF forms one (small) part of the overall process, but is used to define the process as a tracking method. There is an expectation that during the bid development, many iterations of the text and financial components are performed, with feedback incorporated at each stage prior to submission.


Frascati Definition of Research

A clear definition of research is critical to Higher Education statistical reporting, such as the Research Activity Survey commissioned by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The internationally recognised definition is taken from the Frascati Manual, an OECD publication which has become a standard reference for R&D surveys and data collection in the OECD, EU and beyond.