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Regulations for medium-scale research infrastructure

Chapter 1. Preliminary provisions and scope of application

Art. 1.

By virtue of Article 16 of the Decree of 30 April 2009 on the organisation and financing of science and innovation policy and Title 6/1 of the Decree of 10 November 2011, the Flemish Government grants the FWO a subsidy to support investments in medium- scale research infrastructure.

Art. 2.

§1. These regulations govern the eligibility of applications, agreements, implementation, amendment and extension, evaluation, subsidy and reporting of medium-scale research infrastructure of the Research Foundation - Flanders.

§2. These regulations are without prejudice to the general regulations of the Research Foundation.

§3. Any situation not provided for in these regulations shall be governed by the other regulations and the jurisprudence of the Research Foundation - Flanders.

§4. Detailed information, full regulations and forms are available online.

Art. 3.

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.

Art. 4.

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. 5. 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. 6. Medium-scale research infrastructure

§1. Medium-scale research infrastructure is defined as research infrastructure with a total financing cost (*) from €150,000 to €1,000,000, VAT included. Applications for medium-scale infrastructure are made within each university.

§2. Medium-scale investments may not be used to prevent an investment from falling under the large-scale infrastructure regulations, e.g. by breaking up the infrastructure into elements that have no actual function of their own, but for which medium-scale infrastructure is used, and subsequently combining them. Pooling may therefore not be used to break up a total infrastructure project.

§3.  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.

(*) For the purposes of these regulations, the term financing cost means the total grant amount awarded, excluding co-financing by a party other than FWO.

Chapter 2. Eligibility of applications

Art. 7.  University level

§1. Each university incorporates a regulation on medium-scale research infrastructure and establishes an internal advisory committee "Infrastructure". The composition and the name of this committee are left to the discretion of the university.

§2. The universities organise an internal call for medium-scale research infrastructure. Each supervisor-spokesperson (member, regardless of the nature of employment or origin of remuneration, who is active within the university submits their application through the electronic application form. These applications are further assessed according to the universities' internal procedure, in compliance with the provisions of article 25/7 of the FWO decision of November 10, 2011. The university ranks the subsidy applications on the basis of the selection criteria and forwards them to the FWO. Institutions formally act as applicants in calls for medium-scale research infrastructure.  Supervisors can therefore not directly submit applications to the FWO.

§3. Third parties can make use of infrastructure provided they make a financially assessable contribution. They cannot, however, receive subsidies. In the context of the call and selection procedure for medium-scale research infrastructure, third parties are defined as bodies other than a Flemish university. Third parties include the Flemish strategic research centres, the Flemish institutes for post-initial education, other domestic or foreign education and/or research institutions and domestic or foreign companies. 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. In order to encourage cooperation with Flemish business and industry, the FWO is communicating the call to business federations.

§4. Applications to be submitted in English, via the host institution of the supervisor, using online forms. More info, including timing, can be found on the FWO website and/or the FWO's other digital channels.

Art. 8.

§1. Subsidy applications for investment initiatives in the area of medium-scale research infrastructure are submitted by research groups of universities. Two or more departments or research groups within the same institution that jointly submit an application are considered one applicant;

§2. Application dossiers submitted by the universities must clearly indicate whether

  • there is cooperation with (an)other university(ies) i.e. two or more applicants associated with institutions that belong to different universities, submit the application;
  • there is cooperation  with (an)other university(ies) and/or with third parties;, or whether such cooperation with (an)other university(ies) and/or with third parties will be developed further, i.e. the persons associated with a Flemish university or the third party are not known yet.

§3. The application must also include a proposal for the overall financing of the infrastructure (incl. co-financing and the financially assessable contribution by third parties), as well as a usage plan showing the use of the available capacity.

§4. An application for research infrastructure is submitted under the direction of a supervisor, possibly in collaboration with one or more co-supervisors.

§5. If a proposal is submitted by research groups from several universities, 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.

§6. 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.

§7. 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. Co-supervisors may serve as co-supervisors for multiple applications at the same time.

§8. 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.

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

Chapter 3. Selection

Art. 9. Selection procedure

Investment initiatives on medium-scale research infrastructure are selected as follows:

Art. 9.1. Selection procedure at association level

a) Applicants submit their application to an university using the electronic form provided for this purpose;

b) The universities consult each other with a view to achieving maximum cooperation;

c) The applications are assessed in accordance with the provisions of the internal regulations for medium- scale research infrastructure of the university. In the process, applications are reviewed by a minimum of two international experts;

d) Each university draws up an indicative list of applications proposed for subsidies, it being understood that:

  1. the indicative list may exceed the amount available to the university by no more than two applications or by no more than 15%;
  2. the indicative list is accompanied by a concise justification report on each application treated, including, where appropriate, a justification of changes to applications proposed for subsidy with respect to the initially submitted applications;

Art. 9.2. Selection procedure at FWO level

a) For each university, the FWO assesses the indicative lists taking into account the selection criteria set out in Article 10, as well as the results of the inter-university consultations;

b) The FWO may ask each university administration to provide additional information on these indicative lists;

c) The FWO board of trustees makes a final decision on the financing to be allocated.

Art. 10. Selection criteria

§1. The selection criteria are established in the internal regulation on medium-scale research infrastructure of each university. The selection criteria and any changes thereto are communicated to the FWO.

§2. For the assessment against the selection criterion, as set out in Article 18  §3, 1°, of the Decree of 30 April 2009, it is checked that the investment plan prepared for the planned investment includes at least the following elements:

a) a description of the planned investment;

b) 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;

c) an 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;

d) a detailed usage plan relating to the depreciation period of the research infrastructure, and an indication of the distribution of the usage time, expressed in percentages, for own research groups, for other research groups within the own institution, for external research groups and for third parties;  

e) a reasonable estimate of the extent to which the research infrastructure contributes to major scientific, technological or social developments or innovation;

f) a description of the cost structure and specification of the financing methods and the relevant guarantees. By financing method is meant the channels via which the portion of the cost to be co-financed will be financed (e.g. reserves of the institution, private contribution, etc.) and how the acquisition of the requested research infrastructure is to proceed from a formal, technical point of view (e.g. purchase, operational leasing, public-private partnership, etc.), whilst by guarantees is meant the guarantees that can be provided already at the time of the application to demonstrate the credibility of the financing methods (e.g. certificate issued by the institution, agreement with a private partner, letter of intent from a private partner, etc.).

§3. The university's administration assesses and ranks the applications on the basis of the selection criteria, on an indicative list.

Chapter 4. Subsidy percentages

Art. 11.

§1. The amount available each year for medium-scale research infrastructure is allocated to the universities in accordance with an allocation key as defined in Article 18 §8 of the Decree of 30 April 2009. 

§2. Resources for medium-scale research infrastructure attributable to an university that have not been allocated at the end of the relevant calendar year can be transferred, while retaining their original allocation, to the university's budget for the following year.  

§3. Selected initiatives for medium-scale research infrastructure receive a subsidy in the amount of 100% of the costs eligible for subsidy.

Chapter 5. Agreement

Art. 12.

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

§2. 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.

§3. In the case of medium-scale research infrastructure, the host institution is

  • Either an university;
  • Or a duly authorised body of that university;
  • Or a partnership agreement between one or more universities;
  • Or an association, foundation or company controlled by one or more universities. 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.

§4. The FWO will enter into a contract with the host institution and the supervisor-spokesperson and their co-promoters.

§5. In the case of an inter- university application, this contract will only take effect after 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 partnership agreement contains, inter alia, provisions on 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.

§6. For an application involving a third party or third parties, the contract between the FWO and the host institution and the supervisor-spokesperson will only take effect after 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.

§7. Third parties cannot 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.

§8. 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. 13. Cooperation with foreign organisationsif the medium-scale research infrastructure to be subsidised is located in Flanders

§1. Foreign organisations (public and private education and/or research institutions, companies, etc.) may participate in infrastructure investment initiatives. 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 medium-scale research infrastructure;
  • foreign organisations may participate in the joint construction of medium-scale research infrastructure, and
  • foreign researchers may be invited to work on or with the subsidised research infrastructure.

§2. Here, special attention must be paid to the (consequences of the) legal form of the partnership agreement between the Flemish university(ies) 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.

Art. 14.

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

Art. 15.

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

Art. 16.

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 facilities provided by the FWO. 

Art. 17.

The subsidies are awarded exclusively for the installation or construction of 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. 18.

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.

Chapter 6. Cost categories

Art. 19. (as amended by decision of the Board of Trustees of 27/11/2019)

§1. Cost categories eligible for subsidies:

  • Equipment: Costs for research investments, i.e. the costs of purchasing and connecting the actual 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 existing research infrastructure and the costs for the operational or maintenance personnel once the infrastructure is up and running;
  • Operational costs consisting of maintenance costs throughout the depreciation period, being the costs arising out of maintenance contracts or upgrades of the research infrastructure, equipment repair costs, travel costs to and from abroad and the costs for a CO2 contribution linked to research-related air travel, to the extent that these costs are in line with the development, construction, upgrading, operation and/or maintenance of the research infrastructure.

§2. 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.

§3. Shifts between personnel and operational costs are possible and should be reported in the scientific reporting. Equipment grants can only be transferred to staff or operational costs on the basis of a justified request addressed to FWO. However, in case of approval, the payment deadlines as included in the grant agreement will not change.

§4. Operational costs relating to the use of the research infrastructure or research carried out using the research infrastructure are not eligible for subsidies. These costs are normally borne by the research projects using the infrastructure.

§5. The performance of specific subtasks can also be outsourced to subcontractors on condition that this is included in the application. Subcontractors do not receive direct funding from FWO. The cumulative contribution of subcontractors does not exceed 20 percent of the total operating costs. A higher share is only possible on condition that this is thoroughly justified in the application.

Art. 20. Rules for the calculation of personnel costs

§1. 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.

§2. 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.

§3. 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). For the justification of the costs, the time expenditure must be demonstrated on the basis of the data recorded in the logbook.

§4. 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. 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. After the end of the depreciation period, these costs have to be borne by the association.

§5. Positive balances of the awarded grants for equipment, staff and operational costs can be justified up to two years after the end date of the agreement.

§6. The supervisor-spokesperson, supervisor or co-supervisor cannot be granted any remuneration or cumulation with remuneration in the context of a research infrastructure application with an allowance from the Research Foundation - Flanders, i.e. the (co-)supervisor cannot compensate himself/herself with the allowances for infrastructure applications.

§7. Personnel costs can only be justified if:

  • the recruitment of personnel is included in the original application;
  • the personnel was recruited by means of an employment contract.

Art. 21.

§1. 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.

§2. 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.

Chapter 7. Scientific evaluation

Art. 22.

§1. The supervisors must submit a scientific report to the host institution:

  • 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).

The host institution evaluates the reports and reports to FWO.

§2. In addition, the supervisor 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.

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

Chapter 8. Payment, justification and audit

Art. 23.

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

Chapter 9. General financial provisions

Art. 24.

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. 25.

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

Art. 26.

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

Chapter 10. Other provisions

Art. 27.

§1. All infrastructure acquired under a grant of the FWO shall become the property of a, in Flanders based, 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.

§2. 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.

Art. 28.

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.

Art. 29.

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.