Friday, 29 July 2011

ERC, timesheets and alternative evidence

When the ERC (European Research Council) was set up, those involved were very keen to distance its operation from the European Commission. This would avoid political interference in its decisions, and also minimise bureaucracy. A symbol of the latter was the separation of financial reporting from scientific reporting, which normally only coincide at the end of the project.

However, the ERC grant agreement is almost identical to that used in the Cooperation and Capacities Programmes in its financial rules, including those that give rise to the need for timesheets. On the other hand, ERC does not have separate financial categories of research, demonstration, management and other, so one reason for timesheets disappeared. Also, many researchers working on ERC projects, according to their employment agreements, work full time on the project, so timesheets were not needed to support calculation of productive time. Finally, the EC’s Financial Guidelines said alternative evidence could be used to support financial claims. Researchers feel that peer-reviewed publications are evidence that they worked well on the project, so timesheets were not filled out. Now ERC’s own auditors are urging all ERC-funded researchers to fill in timesheets. What’s going on?

When the financial guidelines said alternative evidence could be used in place of timesheets, they went on to say that this evidence should give an equivalent level of assurance, to be assessed by auditors. And this is the point. The researchers have to convince auditors, not other scientists.

Regards
Singleimage - FP7 Training Workshops and Advice

Friday, 1 July 2011

University overhead calculations

Under FP7 there are four alternative methods to calculate overheads. Two are flat rates (either 20% or 60% of direct costs excluding subcontracts and similar external costs). The other two are based on the actual costs of overheads. One version takes account of differences in overheads between different parts of the organisation, such as departments. The other, called “simplified”, does not. An advantage of “simplified” is that overheads are calculated only for the most recent completed financial year, rather than for the precise reporting period of a project.

The chart, taken from a presentation by EC audit staff, shows for over a thousand universities which methods were used in research grant agreements signed between May 2009 and May 2010. While most (87.5%) use a flat rate, one in eight calculates their actual overheads. And despite the apparent advantages of the “simplified” method, two thirds of those calculating overheads use the more complicated method.



Regards
Singleimage - FP7 Training Workshops and Advice