Billing of costs for the use of internal university infrastructure

Cost statement for using university infrastructure

Current situation

The new funding regulations of the SNSF dated 27 February 2015 allow the “funding of direct costs for the use of infrastructure for conducting the research project” (Funding Regulations, Article 28). And Articles 2.12 (“Material costs: computing time and data”) and 2.15 (“Direct costs of infrastructure use”) of the General Implementation Regulations stipulate that general costs for the maintenance and servicing of the infrastructure are not regarded as eligible costs.

The purpose of this document is to explain how the SNSF intends to implement these regulations while pursuing the following objectives:

  • Cooperative implementation that reflects long-term collaboration with institutions in the context of the administration of SNSF funding;
  • Implementation that is as compatible as possible with the requirements defined in European research programmes;
  • Implementation that keeps the administrative outlay within reasonable bounds for all involved parties.

Implementation principles

  • 1. Each invoice for the use of research infrastructure that is to be charged to an SNSF grant is to include an enclosure [link to example at the end of the file] that provides details regarding the tariff that has been applied for calculating the associated costs.
  • 2. In the case of large-scale infrastructure (referred to as “core facilities”), a detailed summary of costs also has to be provided in the categories defined by the SNSF. This summary of costs will be archived by the SNSF and modified or updated as necessary.

Eligible costs for use of infrastructure

For the purposes of these guidelines , the term “infrastructure” refers to those units within a university that provide services and are necessary for the implementation of a research project, but which do not form an integral part of the basic facilities or the facilities required for the normal operation of a scientific installation.

“Normal operation” encompasses the provision of services in the areas of administration, technology transfer, interface with the Cantonal Ethics Commission, general information technology, communication, human resources, finance, real estate management, materials and logistics, etc.

Workshops / laboratories and facilities for keeping laboratory animals may only charge for those aspects of their services that directly support research projects. With regard to facilities for keeping laboratory animals, the housing and breeding of animals that are not involved in the conducted experiments has to be classified as normal operation and therefore may not be charged to the grant. However, additional services associated with the tests may be charged to SNSF funding.

Cost categories

Enclosures with invoices for the purpose of documenting tariffs, as well as statements of costs relating to core facilities, have to be based on the following categories:

Cost categoryComments
Direct costs of infrastructure use (eligible)
Salaries and social contributions of personnel for use of the necessary equipmentCovers the expenditure that is directly associated with the processing of the involved research.
Consumables
Chemicals
Energy costsOnly for equipment that gives rise to variable energy costs that are significantly higher than the normal level.
Acquisition costs of appliances that have a service life of ≤ 4 yearsOnly if the appliances could be also purchased within the framework of SNSF grants (≤50,000.- per SNSF project).
Other direct costs of infrastructure use
Direct costs of provision of infrastructure (non-eligible)
Salaries and social contributions of personnel for the maintenance of the equipment
Maintenance contracts, repair costs
Depreciation of research equipment
Other costs directly associated with infrastructure
Indirect costs (non-eligible)
Administration and management costs
Maintenance costs
Other general costs
Other accounting costs, overheads
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Maintenance, upkeep and depreciation

Maintenance and upkeep costs are not eligible. The term “maintenance and upkeep” refers to all technical and administrative measures intended to maintain or restore the functionality of an appliance / infrastructure component. This includes service contracts and repair costs, as well as general administration and the management and salaries (or portions thereof) of personnel who maintain equipment or infrastructure components. Depreciation of research equipment is not classified as direct research costs and may not be included in applications for SNSF funding.

Small appliances with a service life of ≤ 4 years

The purchase of small appliances with a service life of less than four years, which can be classified between the categories of consumables and equipment and which could also be purchased within the framework of individual SNSF grants, may be charged under direct costs. An overall amount of up to 50,000 Swiss francs may be charged to an SNSF grant. The term “small appliances” refers, for example, to items such as nodes in high-performance computing centres.

Separation of personnel costs for use and provision of infrastructure

In many cases, the same personnel are involved in the direct use of the equipment (which is eligible) and its maintenance (which is not eligible), and in some cases the same personnel are also responsible for general administration (which is not eligible). The allocation of salary costs to direct use, maintenance and indirect costs has to be carried out by the facility manager to the best of his/her knowledge and ability. The SNSF is able to verify this allocation of costs by comparing similar services provided by various other universities.

Distinction between core facilities and small-scale infrastructure

The term “core facility” refers to the large-scale infrastructure of a university. For the time being, the SNSF will leave it up to the universities to identify other infrastructure components for which a comprehensive summary of costs should be provided. Universities are requested to inform the SNSF about facilities they define as “large-scale infrastructure”. In addition to the summary of costs to be enclosed with each invoice, core facilities are also required to provide a comprehensive breakdown of costs based on the categories defined by the SNSF (see example).

Tariffs

The total amount that is charged to the SNSF grant may not exceed the amount that results from the calculation of the direct costs . If an invoice includes a discount, the SNSF only pays the effectively owed amount.

Services provided to researchers in various roles and outside the host institution of an infrastructure

The regulations of the SNSF apply to all services that are provided for research within the scope of an SNSF project, i.e. including applicants, project partners and, where applicable, for activities carried out on a subcontracting basis. The regulations also apply if facilities carry out tasks within the scope of SNSF projects on behalf of researchers at other institutions.

Instructions and audits by the SNSF

The universities and the SNSF are to work closely together to optimise the administration of research grants. For the time being, the SNSF will not carry out thorough controls of the costs invoiced by facilities. However, universities may of course call on internal audits (for example, those that are required in connection with the promotion of research by the EU) to document the costs. The SNSF is able to verify billed costs to some extent by comparing similar services provided by other universities. If necessary, the SNSF will ask a facility to provide a detailed explanation of the billed costs.

Introduction, trial phase

Following the introduction of the new Funding Regulations, the SNSF is able to assume the direct costs for the use of research infrastructure. In order to ensure the smooth administration of grants, in the first quarter of 2017 universities and the involved facilities are asked to:

  • Register their core facilities and submit the applicable breakdown of costs together with the respective tariffs;
  • Implement the instructions relating to the enclosures to be included with invoices.

2017 will constitute the introductory and test phase, during which the SNSF will observe how effectively the new practice is being introduced within the universities and the SNSF itself. It will also monitor the development of the costs charged to SNSF grants. At the end of the introductory phase the SNSF will then make any adjustments that may be required. In this context, the SNSF would be grateful for feedback from the universities.

Example of summary of costs for an enclosure with an invoice

Below is a fictitious summary of costs for scanning electron microscopy. On the invoice itself the costs are charged at 49.00 Swiss francs per hour of use.

Tariff structure for scanning electron microscopy, x department, y university
Enclosure to accompany invoice to SNSF

Tariff structure for scanning electron microscopy, x department, y university
Enclosure to accompany invoice to SNSF
Salaries and social contributions of personnel for use of the equipment30.00 Swiss francs per hour of use
Consumables19.00 Swiss francs per hour of use use
Chemicals
Energy costs
Acquisition of equipment with service life ≤ 4 years
Other direct costs
Total costs 49.00 per hour of use

Note: The enclosure must clearly designate the involved service and research infrastructure.