Charities welcome call to open books

April 17, 1998

BRITAIN'S research charities have welcomed a call to pay "the full economic costs of the (university) research they fund and no more".

The recommendation by the influential House of Commons science and technology committee, if accepted by government, will up the pressure on universities to calculate properly the full cost of each research project. This could mean higher administrative charges.

The committee also suggested that the research assessment exercise only reward institutions which attract grants and commissions on terms that meet the full economic cost.

Most charities refuse to pay indirect costs associated with research. They argue that the way universities calculate indirect costs as a blanket percentage of direct costs means there is no way of keeping track. Charities' money could go anywhere - to infrastructure or libraries, even to the running costs of swimming pools, says the Association of Medical Research Charities, which represents about 100 research charities.

Diana Garnham, director of the AMRC, stressed charities willingness to pay all costs associated with a particular research project as long as they could be identified. "As it is, indirect costs are a guestimate - a percentage loading which is undefined."

Direct costs are those uniquely associated with a project. These include the cost of non-academic staff, such as researchers and technicians, special equipment or chemicals for the project.

Indirect costs are generally defined as those central and departmental administration and service costs involved in supporting research. Universities, if they are to start charging charities for any of these, may soon have to show how they are used by a project and therefore constitute an economic cost of that project.

These include central institutional library costs, public relations costs, but also departmental services such as administration, secretarial staff, minor consumables, printing, lab and workshop support. If universities can show how individual research projects increase these costs, they may be able to charge appropriately for them. Permanent academic staff are paid from the research part of the HEFCE grant.

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