Regulations for large-scale research infrastructure

GENERAL

The General Regulations apply.

Detailed information, full regulations and forms are available online
Any additional information can be obtained from the secretariat of the Research Foundation - Flanders, Egmontstraat 5, 1000 BRUSSELS, tel 02 512 512.91.10 or infrastructuur@fwo.be.

BACKGROUND

Art. 1.

By virtue of Article 16 of the Decree of 30 April 2009 on the organisation and financing of science and innovation policy, the Flemish Government grants the FWO a subsidy to support investments in large-scale, medium-scale and exceptional research infrastructure. Of the resources made available by the Flemish Government, 60 to 70 percent are earmarked to fund medium-scale research infrastructure and 30 to 40 percent to fund large-scale research infrastructure. Within these limits, the FWO board of trustees determines the distribution of the resources available for a call. The Flemish Government may each year decide to depart from these limits when justified by objectively determined reasons.

Art. 2.

The financing of research infrastructure fits within the Flemish Government’s general objective of strengthening the system of research and innovation in Flanders by improving cooperation among the various players.

LARGE-SCALE RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE

Art. 3. Research Infrastructure

Research infrastructure comprises all facilities and sources that promote the performance of cross-border and strategic basic research across all scientific disciplines. Besides scientific infrastructure, this includes collections, natural habitats, corpora and databases (including digital opening up).

Databases may be the subject of an application for research infrastructure in one of three ways:

  • An applicant may apply for a subsidy to construct their own database.
  • An applicant may apply for a subsidy to purchase a database and possible upgrades.
  • An applicant may apply for a licence or subscription to access and use a database.

Art. 4. Large-scale research infrastructure

 Large-scale research infrastructure covers investment initiatives in excess of 1 million euros. At Flemish level, applications for large-scale research infrastructure are submitted directly to the FWO.  The ‘artificial upgrading’ of an application to an application for large-scale infrastructure by joining together several instruments that have little or no structural cohesion is prohibited. An application may propose the purchase of several instruments but these must form a whole and it must be demonstrated that the proposed research programme(s) cannot be carried out if one of them is not available.

APPLICATIONS

Art. 5.

Under a call for large-scale research infrastructure, applications can be submitted by a research group or research groups at a Flemish university, at higher education institutions in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013 and by strategic research centres, or by a partnership between the above bodies or a partnership between at least one of the aforementioned bodies and one or more third parties.

Third parties, and companies in particular, can make use of infrastructure provided they make a financially assessable contribution. Third parties cannot receive subsidies.  "Third parties" is defined broadly and not limited to Flanders-based companies or research centres. Federal scientific and cultural institutions are considered third parties. Public entities that depend on, or were set up by, or are (partially) funded by the Flemish government, other Belgian authorities, foreign authorities and international or supranational organisations, may act as third parties. Academic hospitals with legal personality cannot submit applications but they can act as third parties. In order to encourage cooperation with Flemish business and industry, business federations are informed about the call.

Art. 6.

A subsidy application under a call for large-scale research infrastructure can take many forms:

  • institution application: the application is made by one or more research groups from one and the same university, university college, strategic research centre or institution in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013;
  • consortium application: the application is made jointly by research groups from at least two universities, university colleges, strategic research centres or institutions in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013;
  • institution application with third parties: the application is an institution application and one or more third parties are involved in the project;
  • consortium application with third parties: the application is a consortium application and one or more third parties are involved in the project.

A consortium of research groups from a single institution does not qualify as “cooperation” in this context.

Art. 7.

If a proposal is submitted by research groups from several of the bodies, the applicants will designate one supervisor who will act as spokesperson for the application. This supervisor is referred to as the supervisor-spokesperson.  If subsidies are awarded, this person will act as the budget holder.

If the supervisor-spokesperson is granted emeritus status or retires within three years of the application being granted, another person associated with the same institution shall act as co-supervisor alongside the supervisor-spokesperson. When the first reaches emeritus status or retires, the second will take over responsibility for the infrastructure as the new supervisor-spokesperson.

Each research group participating in the application other than that to which the supervisor-spokesperson belongs, shall appoint at least one co-supervisor.  These co-supervisors are not budget holders. They must make a real, financially assessable contribution to the application through their research group or institution.

If third parties are involved in the submission of a proposal, each third party shall designate a person from their own organisation to take responsibility for the application. Third parties are not considered applicants. They cannot receive any form of subsidies, directly or indirectly.  They can make a real, financially assessable contribution to the project.

All correspondence with the FWO occurs via the supervisor-spokesperson. The co-supervisors are informed by the supervisor-spokesperson.

Art. 8.

Applications for allowances are to be submitted in English, via the host institution of the supervisor, using online forms. Detailed information, including the time schedule, can be found at /nl/mandaten-financiering/onderzoeksinfrastructuur/.

SELECTION

Art. 9. Admissibility

The admissibility of applications will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • the application must be submitted electronically no later than the final submission date;
  • the application must be complete;
  • the application must be made in English;
  • the total financing cost must be at least EUR 1,000,000;
  • the application must be made by a research group or research groups at a Flemish university, at a higher education institution in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013, or at a strategic research centre; and
  • the application must designate a host institution for the placement of the requested research infrastructure.

Art. 10. Selection procedure

Article 18 §7 of the Decree of 30 April 2009 stipulates that for decisions regarding the support of investment initiatives for large-scale research infrastructure, the board of trustees relies on the advice of experts who assess the scientific quality of the applications, and subsequently verify, for those applications that are rated as excellent, whether the associated investment plans are sufficiently realistic and objective.

In implementation of the provisions of this decree, two expert committees are established: the Science and the Invest Committees as defined in the internal and external peer review regulations.

Art. 10.1. The assessment and decision-making process

The assessment and decision-making process takes place in several phases:

Art. 10.1.1 Scientific assessment

For each application, at least three referees not active in Belgium are invited to provide an assessment. Applicants are free to suggest persons whom they deem suitable to referee their application and have the opportunity to object to a maximum of three referees or institutions from which referees might be selected, provided they give their reasons.  Each referee will receive the complete application dossier that he/she is invited to assess. The referees therefore know the identities of the applicants.

Applicants are given access to the anonymous referee reports and are entitled to respond. The applicants therefore do not know the identities of the referees.

The members of the Science Committee are given access to the referee reports and the applicants' responses, if any.

On this basis, the Science Committee assesses all applications at its first meeting and draws up a list of applications for which a hearing is to be arranged. At this meeting the Committee also makes the preparations for this hearing. The assessment and the compilation of the list are based on the selection criteria listed in art. 11 §1. Assessment and compilation of the list are motivated in an explicit, substantial and written manner.

At the hearing, applicants are given an opportunity to explain their application and answer questions from the members of the Science Committee.

After all the hearings have taken place, the Science Committee formulates its recommendations and ranks the applications deemed excellent. It does so on the basis of the selection criteria listed in art. 11 §1. Recommendations are motivated in an explicit, substantial and written manner.

Art 10.1.2. Assessment of the investment plan and investigation of cooperation potential

The Invest Committee investigates the investment plans of those proposals deemed excellent by the Science Committee, in accordance with the criteria listed in article 11 §2.

The Invest Committee then investigates whether any needs or opportunities exist other than those identified in the application, in the areas of inter-institutional or inter-association cooperation, or cooperation with domestic or foreign research centres, scientific institutions, or companies.

On the basis of these two assessments, the Invest Committee formulates a recommendation, which is added to the Science Committee’s recommendations.  This recommendation is motivated in an explicit, substantial and written manner.

Art. 10.13. Decision of the board of trustees

The board of trustees of the FWO makes a final decision in line with the following principles:

§1. The list of applications deemed excellent by the Science Committee can only be ratified or rejected. If rejected, the Science and Invest Committees are questioned again, this time with an express statement of those elements which the board of trustees believes require further investigation.

If the Invest Committee formulates a recommendation on an application dossier, the board of trustees of the FWO will proceed as follows:

1° either the recommendation will be rejected, and the dossier approved;

2° or the recommendation will be accepted in part or in full, and the dossier approved, on the understanding that the financing or investment conditions imposed by the board of trustees will serve as the terms and conditions for obtaining subsidies;

3° or the recommendation will be accepted in part or in full, and the dossier only approved if the board of trustees is shown the necessary remediation within the period it stipulates, to be no less than ten calendar days and no more than sixty calendar days.  

If the total amount of subsidies to be granted to proposals deemed excellent exceeds the available amount, the proposals will be subsidised in order of excellence until a proposal is reached which cannot be fully funded.  Proposals deemed excellent that are not funded will derive no rights from this in the next call.

After the board of trustees has made a final decision, all the documents prepared in the course of the procedure become public for all persons involved in accordance with the freedom of information legislation. This means, inter alia, that the content of the referee reports, the motivated recommendations of the Science and Invest Committees, and the motivated final decisions of the board of trustees can be consulted by all applicants.

Art. 11. Selection criteria

The following criteria have been defined for the assessment of subsidy applications for large-scale research infrastructure:

The Science Committee evaluates the scientific quality of the applications and ranks the applications deemed excellent in accordance with the following selection criteria:

1° Scientific quality and relevance of the research programme to be implemented via the research infrastructure;

2° Importance of the research infrastructure to research within the scientific discipline involved;

3° Innovative character of the research programme to be implemented via the research infrastructure;

4° Extent to which the research infrastructure as a logistics hub is capable of generating a wide range of new projects;

5° Technologically innovative character of the research infrastructure;

6° In case the research infrastructure has to be constructed: technical feasibility of the research infrastructure;

7° Quality and competence of the research group(s) involved, scientific position of the relevant research group(s) in an international context, and its/their involvement in the policy of international research infrastructures;

8° Extent to which the proposal fits in with the strategic research policy of the institution(s) concerned;

9° Extent to which the investment in the research infrastructure contributes to the strengthening  of the Flemish or regional position in the research field in question;

10° Extent to which the proposal is aligned with both domestic and foreign initiatives and infrastructures within the research field in question;

11° Accessibility of the research infrastructure for researchers external to the host institution, and quality of the access procedure.

No weighting factors are specified for these selection criteria. The Science Committee can decide autonomously on this issue. Prior to the assessment of the applications submitted in the framework of the call, it shall specify the weighting factors to be used in an explicit and written manner. They will be made public together with the Committee's recommendations.

§2. The Invest Committee investigates the applications deemed excellent by the Science Committee in order to assess whether the investment plans are sufficiently realistic and objective.

To this end, the investment plans shall include at least the following elements:

1° description of the planned investment;

2° description of the way in which the infrastructure is to be achieved;

3° detailed usage plan including;

4° a description of the quality of the infrastructure in which the research infrastructure may be accommodated; by quality of the infrastructure is meant, among other things, the current condition of the building in which the requested research infrastructure will be accommodated, whether and to what extent conversions or alterations need to be carried out, the connection of the requested research infrastructure to existing on-site equipment or its compatibility with the already present infrastructure;

5° estimate of the financial, personnel and material costs. All costs must be covered, including those incurred during the depreciation period (e.g. maintenance, operation, upgrade, etc.) unless it is not possible at the time of the application to give a realistic estimate of the costs during the depreciation period, for demonstrable reasons. The depreciation period to be used is in principle 4 years, except for ICT equipment (hard- and software) for which the depreciation period is 3 years. For the estimation of the investment costs an indicative offer must be attached to the application. For the estimation of the personnel cost a detailed statement of the number of person-months, expressed in FTE equivalents, is required; and

6° a balanced budget.

In addition, the Invest Committee will investigate whether possibilities for cooperation exist which are not included in the application.

FINANCING

Art. 12.

The subsidising of selected proposals for large-scale research infrastructure amounts to 70% of the subsidisable costs. In order to stimulate cooperation between centres of knowledge and between centres of knowledge and third parties, this percentage can be increased to:

  • 90% of the subsidisable costs if the proposal is made by research groups from more than one subsidy-eligible body and it is demonstrated in the application dossier that all applicants account for at least half of the amount they would have to pay if the remaining 10% of the subsidisable costs were proportionately distributed. This is to emphasise that there must be a real contribution and commitment from all applicants, and that it is not simply a formal construct. For example, if two partners cooperate, the share to be co-financed must be proportionally divided between the two (each 1/2 of 10%), whereby one partner contributes at least half of the half (1/4 of 10%) and the other no more than the remaining 3/4. If, for example, 3 partners cooperate, the share to be co-financed must be proportionally divided between the three (each 1/3 of 10%), whereby two partners contribute at least 1/6 of 10%, whereas the other partner contributes no more than the remaining 2/3;
  • 100% of the portion of the subsidisable costs to be funded by the university or university college itself if at least 25% of the qualifying costs are borne by a body other than a university or university college.

AGREEMENT

Contracting parties

Art. 13.

The subsidies awarded by the FWO are set out in detail in an agreement.

The subsidised research infrastructure is contractually managed by a demonstrable host institution that has a right in rem (ownership, co-ownership, usufruct, etc.) in respect of the infrastructure and also the responsibility for the optimal use of the infrastructure.

In the case of large-scale research infrastructure, the host institution is

  • either a Flemish university, a higher education institution in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013, or a strategic research centre;
  • or a duly authorised body of a Flemish university, of a higher education institution in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013, or of a strategic research centre;
  • or a partnership agreement between one or more Flemish universities, higher education institutes in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013, or a strategic research centre;
  • or an association, foundation or company controlled by one or more Flemish universities, by a higher education institution in charge of scientific research pursuant to the Higher Education Code of 11 October 2013, or by a strategic research centre; Control of an association or foundation must coincide with possession of the majority of votes in the board of directors. Control of a company shall be interpreted within the meaning of Article 5 of the Companies Code.

The FWO will enter into a contract with the host institution and the supervisor-spokesperson:

In the case of a consortium application, this contract will not be concluded until the FWO is presented with a partnership agreement concluded between the various research groups involved or their respective institutions. This partnership agreement shall establish the modalities governing the cooperation among the various research groups and their respective institutions as part of the implementation of the research infrastructure project. The cooperation agreement contains, inter alia, provisions concerning the following subjects:

  • the rights in rem that the various research groups or their respective institutions might exercise on the subsidised research infrastructure (ownership, co-ownership, usufruct, etc.);
  • the financially assessable contribution of the various research groups, or their respective institutions, to the purchase, installation, construction, maintenance and/or operation of the subsidised research infrastructure;
  • the issue if and how VAT will be charged between different institutions;
  • the (potential) repercussions of the FWO's granting of subsidies on the various institutions’ participation and their position in other research financing mechanisms;
  • the access to and use of the subsidised research infrastructure by the various research groups, possibly with prioritisation, and
  • a mediation mechanism in case of disputes over the interpretation and performance of the partnership agreement or other matters relating to the implementation of the research infrastructure project subsidised by the FWO.

For an application involving a third party or third parties, the contract between the FWO and the host institution and the supervisor-spokesperson will not be concluded until the FWO is presented with the agreement(s) relating to the implementation of the research infrastructure project concluded between the relevant research group(s) or its/their (respective) institution(s) and the third party/parties involved.

Third parties can never be the beneficiary of the subsidy. This subsidy can never be passed on to third parties or to a legal entity in which third parties and parties entitled to subsidies participate.

Third parties may at any time participate in a subsidised investment initiative. In return for a financially assessable contribution, i.e. a given financial, personnel or material contribution to the investment initiative, they may acquire a limited right to use the research infrastructure. An estimate of the value in euros of the contributions by third parties must be provided.

Art. 14. Cooperation with foreign organisations if the large-scale research infrastructure to be subsidised is located in Flanders

Foreign organisations (public and private education and/or research institutions, companies, etc.) may participate in infrastructure investment initiatives for large-scale infrastructure. From a legal viewpoint, they will then be treated as third parties. This means that (1) in return for their financially assessable contribution they acquire only a limited right to use the research infrastructure and (2) they can never be the beneficiary of subsidies, so that these subsidies can never be passed on to them or to a legal entity in which they participate alongside parties entitled to subsidies.

From the foregoing it follows that:

  • foreign organisations may at any time participate in the co-financing of large-scale research infrastructure;
  • foreign organisations may participate in the joint construction of large-scale research infrastructure, provided they comply with the provisions of the Aanvullingsdecreet and the Hercules Regulatory Decree.
  • Foreign researchers may be invited to work on or with the subsidised research infrastructure. 

Here, special attention must be paid to the (consequences of the) legal form of the partnership agreement between the Flemish university(ies) and/or university college(s) and the foreign organisations, in particular as regards co-financing or joint construction. Towards this end, it is recommended that an international non-profit association under Belgian law be set up in which the Flemish university(ies) and/or university college(s) possess the majority of votes on the board of directors.

DURATION AND MODALITIES

Art. 15.

The contracts will, in principle, have a duration of four years, renewable for maximum two years. 

Art. 16.

The contract shall include unilateral termination clauses, which shall in any case be accompanied by prior notice provisions. 

Art. 17.

The FWO will ask the host institutions to give their consent for the execution of the FWO sponsored research at their premises. The heads of the host institutions will be asked to give their approval for access by researchers from other institutions, to the equipment provided by the FWO. 

Art. 18.

The subsidies are awarded exclusively for the installation or construction of large-scale research infrastructure approved by the FWO, hence the supervisors shall use the subsidies exclusively for this purpose. As soon as their use no longer meets this requirement, the subsidies or their balances shall return to the FWO. 

Art. 19.

Any fundamental change to the approved application must be communicated to the FWO and shall be the subject of an investigation, equal to that for a new application, and be included in an amendment to the contract, that does not extend the original contract. Any partial modification of the research project, as well as any change in the planned expenditure, is subject to prior approval by the FWO.

Cost categories

Art. 20.

Cost categories eligible for subsidies:

  • Equipment: Costs for research investments, i.e. the costs of purchasing and connecting the research infrastructure or purchasing the components for the construction of the planned research infrastructure, including the non-refundable portion of VAT. This also includes the upgrading, i.e. the substantial improvement of existing research infrastructure;
  • Personnel costs for the development and construction of the research infrastructure. This also includes the personnel costs for upgrading the research infrastructure and the costs for the operational or maintenance personnel once the infrastructure is up and running;
  • Operational costs consisting of maintenance costs over the entire depreciation period, i.e. the costs arising from maintenance agreements or research infrastructure upgrades and equipment repairs.

The overhead percentage applicable to research infrastructure projects is 10%.  This overhead must be used primarily to cover the costs for modifications to buildings and connection costs relating to the research infrastructure.

Operational costs relating to the use of the research infrastructure are not eligible for subsidy. These costs will normally be funded by the research projects using the infrastructure.

Art. 21. Rules for the calculation of personnel costs

To calculate the personnel costs, the real wage costs of already employed personnel are used; otherwise, an estimate of the cost for the personnel to be recruited shall be specified. Systems used to estimate the real wage cost are available from the personnel department of each institution.

This is the maximum individual personnel cost per annum. It allows supervisors to recruit personnel under an employment contract or (in the case of a researcher) a PhD grant. When carrying out a subsidised project the maximum amounts must be respected, but not necessarily the number of subsidised items. Supervisors can recruit both full-time and part-time personnel (scientific or technical, depending on the appointment), but always full-time in the case of PhD grants), provided they remain within the allocated budget.

If, with respect to personnel costs for the permanent maintenance and operation of the research infrastructure, account is made of the costs for personnel already in service at the host institution on a permanent or contractual basis, the current wage cost for that personnel will be included in the budget in part or in full as a cost eligible for subsidy (based on the total hours per month spent on permanent maintenance and operation by that personnel).

Costs for training, education and retraining of personnel on the use of the research infrastructure are eligible for subsidy. These are in fact maintenance costs, more particularly personnel costs for permanent maintenance and operation of the research infrastructure. To enable the operation of the research infrastructure, either competent personnel must be recruited or already employed personnel must be trained and/or retrained.

This is subject to two conditions:

  • First, such costs for training, education and retraining of personnel are eligible for subsidy during the depreciation period of the research infrastructure. This implies that not only initial training costs but also costs for retraining (e.g. following an upgrade) are eligible for subsidy. However, retraining costs are only eligible for subsidy until the end of the depreciation period, after which they will have to be borne by the association.
  • Second, throughout the depreciation period of the research infrastructure, maximum 15 percent of the allocated subsidy may be used for personnel training, education and retraining costs.

Personnel costs can be justified during the term of the agreement signed by the respective parties for the implementation of the infrastructure project and the following year.

Art. 22.

If, under the terms of contracts supported by the FWO, the supervisors are allowed to recruit staff, such recruitment shall comply with the provisions of the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers, as published in 2005 by the European Commission, together with the European Charter for Researchers. Furthermore, all appointments must comply with the applicable legal provisions and in accordance with the compensations and regulations in force at the host institution (and therefore in the large majority of cases in accordance with the system applicable at the universities in the Flemish Community) as regards the hierarchy of grades, the requirements for recruitment and promotion, and the remunerations.
The host institutions may impose additional requirements if deemed necessary.

Each year, before 15 March of the following year, the host institution shall submit to FWO a list containing an overview of the staff working on the various FWO projects.  The list is broken down by project/budget and includes the following information: surname, first name, date of birth, nationality, date of start of employment, date of end of employment, employment percentage, type of contract, statute (BAP - PhD fellow, BAP – WM, ATP…) and highest degree obtained, and a certificate of the host institution stating that the scientific staff meet the applicable requirements.  Staff expenditure that does not meet these requirements, shall be rejected.

SCIENTIFIC EVALUATION

Art. 23.

The supervisors must submit a scientific report to the FWO:

  • for ongoing projects: during the last year of the agreement, a scientific report indicating the progress status of the research and the project work still to be carried out, together with a list of scientific publications, if any.
  • for fully completed projects: upon expiry of the agreement, a final report on the scientific activities, together with a list of publications related to the project, and the logbook (in electronic form) must be added.

The host institution maintains a logbook from the moment the infrastructure is operational until the end of the depreciation period, which contains the following elements:

  • The users of the research infrastructure;
  • The use of the research infrastructure;
  • The duration of use of the research infrastructure;
  • User comments on the efficiency and effectiveness of the research infrastructure.

These logbooks are an element in the assessment of the partnerships.

PAYMENT  – JUSTIFICATION – AUDIT

Art. 24.

Payments, reports and audits shall be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the FWO regulations for research projects.

GENERAL FINANCIAL PROVISIONS

Art. 25.

Under no circumstances can expenditure be charged to grants awarded for future financial years. This also implies that invoices dated before the start date of the contract shall not be accepted.

Art. 26.

The management of the awarded grants is entrusted to the accounting department of the scientific institution to which the supervisors are affiliated.  

Art. 27.

The financial year begins on 1 January and ends on 31 December.

OTHER PROVISIONS

Art. 28.

All infrastructure acquired under a grant of the FWO shall become the property of the university or a scientific research institute to which the supervisor is affiliated, or of a university college, by virtue of the agreement made with a Flemish university that must be included in the application.

This institution undertakes to make the relevant infrastructure available to the researchers. Moreover, it undertakes to neither sell nor lend out the infrastructure without prior permission of the FWO.

Expenses are accepted if they are dated during the year of the award and the following two years.

Art. 29.

Exceptional and duly justified requests for extensions must be submitted to FWO no later than by 30 November of the last year of the period of use permitted under the regulations, i.e. the term of the signed contract plus two years. Extensions are limited to maximum six months.

FINAL PROVISION

Art. 30.

For any cases not provided for in these regulations, reference shall be made to the case law of the Research Foundation - Flanders.

Note: the English version of the regulations are only a translation and have no legal force.