Grants and Research Funding

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RESEARCH SERVICES OFFICE

Electronic submission of research grant applications

Introduction

Some of the University's largest external funders of research are introducing electronic systems for the submission of research grant applications. Many have developed their own systems (although it has now been recognised by both the sponsors of research and the UK academic community that some form of rationalisation is required to make the process more `user- friendly'), and these are at different stages of development. This summary document provides general information on electronic grant submission by highlighting the key issues as well as explaining the University's response to the changes.


What is electronic grant submission?

Electronic grant submission (sometimes referred to as EDS, or Electronic Document Submission) is the process of submitting grant applications to a sponsor via the internet or e-mail. Two types of systems are being developed to facilitate this process.

(a) Off-line systems allow the applicant to download the form filler software from the sponsor's Web site. The completed form is then submitted via the host institution's administrative authorities to the sponsor. The case for support is completed on local word-processing software and is then converted to the appropriate format either portable document format (pdf) or postscript (ps) files.

(b) On-line systems involve the applicant registering and logging on to the relevant Web site and completing the application form on-line. The sponsor notifies the University's administrative authorities that the application requires formal authorisation. The case for support is prepared off-line and converted to the appropriate format (e.g. pdf).


Why is electronic grant submission being introduced?

Various factors are driving the implementation of electronic grant submission. Public sector sponsors of research, such as the research councils, Government departments and agencies, are required as part of the current Government's Modernising Government White Paper to conduct the majority of their business electronically by 2005. In this respect electronic grant submission can be viewed as the first step towards a more fully integrated `e-business' relationship between the sponsors of research and the UK science base. Future electronic interactions are likely to include other stages in the research grant cycle, such as the proposal review process, the issuing of award letters, and post-award administration, as well as the reporting of both the scientific and financial aspects of the project.

Although other external funders of research such as UK charities and overseas foundations fall outside the scope of the White Paper, there are considerable benefits to be realised from the introduction of e-business, particularly at the application stage. These include the removal of unnecessary duplication of effort at the proposal preparation stage and the reduction of timescales in the grant assessment process. The new systems also encourage all organisations to improve their data capture and storage methods. It is possible that in the future some of the larger commercial sponsors of research may also consider introducing electronic grant submission mechanisms.


Which grantors are involved?

Several of the University's largest external funders of research, including the research councils, the Wellcome Trust, and the European Commission, have either developed (or are in the process of developing) systems to enable researchers to submit research proposals electronically. The impact of the changes being introduced by these sponsors alone will be substantial, since they account for over 60 per cent of the 2,500 research grant applications submitted by University researchers each year. Just over 60 per cent of the University's annual research income (in 1999/00 this represented £76.7M out of a total of £129.5M) derives from this group of sponsors.

It is anticipated that, in the medium term, other funders, such as UK and overseas government departments, large non-government organisations (NGOs), and charitable foundations will also implement electronic grant submission processes. This will then account for almost 90 per cent of the University's research activity both in terms of value and volume.


When can I submit my grant electronically?

Off-line systems

The ESRC now accepts applications in electronic format. Researchers applying to the ESRC should contact Pierre Espinasse (e-mail: pierre.espinasse@admin.ox.ac.uk) or Patrick Davis (e- mail:

(patrick.davis@admin.ox.ac.uk) of the Research Services Office before completing the electronic forms.

The EPSRC, PPARC, BBSRC, and NERC had initially collaborated to provide a research council group solution called Electronic Document Submission (EDS). At the present time, it appears that only the EPSRC will go live with the software in the near future, although it remains unclear whether EDS is seen as a long-term solution. The University is currently pilot-testing the EPSRC's system.

The European Commission's version of Electronic Grant Submission (Protool) is, in theory, live, but initial problems have had an impact on the level of usage of the system. The EC is attempting to resolve these problems. At present the University does not submit electronic proposals to the European Commission. It is unlikely that Protool will be used widely under the current Framework Programme V. However, it is anticipated that a more robust electronic submission system will be in place by the time Framework Programme VI commences in 2003.

On-line systems

The MRC has introduced a beta version of its Electronic Application and Assessment (EAA) system. The Research Services Office recently held seminars for departmental administrators to demonstrate the EAA and to explain the revised university business processes relating to electronic grant submission in general. Documentation from the presentation, including slides, draft business processes, and a detailed flowchart are available on-line at http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/oxonly/rgo/eds.htm. Although the MRC's system is still in its pilot phase and enhancements are constantly being added, the system is proving popular with applicants and administrators.

The Wellcome Trust's electronic grant submission system is still under development but testing is expected to commence shortly.


Why are so many systems being developed?

The development of a single submission system to suit each grantor's individual business requirements has not to date proved possible as every sponsor seeks to design processes to complement its own business requirements. However as a result of lobbying from university administrators, the Research Councils instigated a review of their current submission systems in February 2001 and launched the Joint e-submission Project (Je-S) to examine the possibility of combining research council processes. This feasibility study invites all potential users of electronic grant submission systems to register and then contribute to the project via the Je-S Web site in response to issues relating to electronic grant submission. The Research Services Office co-ordinates the University's official response to the various topics.

It is hoped that Je-S will enable a common research council framework to be developed to provide sufficient flexibility to meet the diverse requirements of each grantor and Higher Education Institute (HEI) while also ensuring that a standard interface is made available for all users.


What are the security issues?

The MRC's system uses industry-standard Level 2 Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocols which apply to all users of the EAA at all stages and is one of the most secure forms of encryption technology currently available. The MRC system will allow lead applicants to provide passwords for read-write and read-only access to other people such as co-applicants, head of department, and departmental administrator. However, once access has been provided the whole application can be viewed by the password holder. Anyone with read-write access will also be able to edit and submit the proposal to the RSO.

The ESRC's submission system uses industry-standard security measures at the transmission stage. However, as the forms under the ESRC's processes have to be downloaded to the applicant's local computer for completion, the security is only as rigorous as that used by the Principal Investigator and co-applicants. The application is submitted by the Principal Investigator to the Research Services Office via e-mail over an unsecured link. The Research Services Office is exploring the use of encryption technology to add a greater level of security to the process.

The EPSRC software, EDS, is similar to the ESRC's software in that security protocols are invoked at the transmission stage only (Secure Sockets Layer 3). As with the ESRC system, there are potential security issues involved with e-mailing applications forms and other documents between staff on different servers.


What changes can I expect to the University's current grant submission process?

The University's new business processes (www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/oxonly/rgo/webbusin.pdf) attempt to provide a single mechanism for all the various electronic submission systems. It is recognised that the University's internal procedures, such as the completion of the OG form, will need to move to electronic format. Therefore, it is proposed that the Resolve OG form will be e-mailed by the appropriate departmental authority to the Research Services Office along with the application form (for off-line systems) and case for support in pdf/postscript format. The University is seeking advice to ensure that the proposed changes in processes incorporate the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. In particular, methods of e-mail encryption are being explored.


Where can I find additional information?

(a) The RSO's Web site at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/ has links to most of the major sponsors' Web sites. The business processes can be also be viewed at http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/oxonly/rgo/webbusin.pdf

(b) Direct links to each of the main sponsor's submission software are as follows:

ESRC: http://eforms.esrc.ac.uk/

EPSRC: http://eds.epsrc.ac.uk/

MRC: http://www.mrc.ac.uk/fund_sch/EAA/eaa1.html

European Commission: http://www.ukro.ac.uk/public/protool/protool.htm

(c) Information on the Joint electronic Submission project can be viewed at http://www.research-councils.ac.uk/je-s/

(d) Applicants and administrators wishing to find out more information relating to electronic grant submission should contact one of the following at the Research Services Office: Pierre Espinasse (e-mail: pierre.espinasse@admin.ox.ac.uk, telephone: (2)70043); or Patrick Davis (e-mail: patrick.davis@admin.ox.ac.uk, telephone: (2)70130).

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OPPENHEIMER FUND

The Oppenheimer Fund provides grants to assist the academic exchange of senior members between the University of Oxford on the one hand and universities and similar institutions of higher education in the Republic of South Africa on the other. Applications are invited from senior members of the University who wish either to visit one or more universities in South Africa or to invite a staff member from a South African university to Oxford. Grants may be awarded to assist with living expenses for a maximum of six months, and travel costs. Visits for the sole purpose of attending a conference will not normally be eligible for support from the fund.

The maximum level of grants is likely to be up to £1,000 per month for subsistence and up to £700 for the cost of travel between Oxford and South Africa. Applications for grants from the fund should include a statement of the purpose of the proposed visit (including an outline of any research to be carried out during the visit), duration and estimated costs, details of any other available sources of funding, and, in the case of visits to Oxford, a curriculum vitae of the staff member it is proposed to invite and a letter of support from a senior member at Oxford. Applications should be sent to Mrs Katherine McGuire, International Office, University Offices, Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JD.

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