To help you locate the advice you need, we’ve recently pulled together equipment sharing policies from the research and funding councils across the UK.
The 2010 Wakeham review recommended that research councils should encourage more intensive use of existing and future investments in research equipment. Since then funders have put in place a number of funding requirements to incentivise asset sharing in institutions. Some require sharing of assets, others need greater justification for or contributions towards the cost of equipment purchase.
Two general grant conditions are relevant to all projects funded by the UK Research Councils:
• RGC 11.3 Use of Equipment
Where there is spare capacity in the use of the equipment, the Research Council expects this to be made available to other users. Priority should be given to research supported by any of the Research Councils and to Research Council¬ funded students.
• RGC 11.5 Equipment.Data
In line with the recommendation made in the “Efficiency, effectiveness and value for money” report, all new equipment purchased over £138,000 (£115,000 ex VAT) using public funding sources should be registered on the equipment.data.ac.uk national database to be discoverable and enable greater sharing.
The report pointed out that the sharing of assets can lead to added benefits as well as efficiencies from shared investment and running costs. It could result in better science, by providing access to higher specification equipment than would otherwise be affordable for individual teams. Sharing can also bring together different research disciplines, which can enable new and multi-disciplinary scientific and technical advances. In turn this improves the training and skills-sets of students, researchers and technicians.
Some university sector groups have driven initiatives to increase sharing activities, specifically:
• RCUK changes to request for equipment from May 2011
RCUK is currently working with university partners to develop options to promote and assist equipment sharing. In practice there is a general call for researchers to think hard before buying new equipment rather than a mandatory policy to share.
• BBSRC research institutes joining equipment.data (July 2013)
The Babraham, Earlham, Quadram (Formerly Institute of Food Research), and Roslin Institutes and the John Innes Centre currently share almost 500 pieces of equipment.
• The HEFCE Catalyst Fund
HEFCE refers to increased sharing of “assets”, not specifically equipment. The fund seeks to support new collaborations between HE providers to overcome commercially sensitive barriers and deliver increased asset sharing, shared services, and value for money.
• EPSRC Funding guidelines
“EPSRC wishes to encourage a culture of equipment sharing where appropriate. This could include research across a number of Higher Education Institution’s (HEI), or across a number of departments within a single HEI. …. EPSRC are looking to maximise the usage of equipment, not necessarily share it as widely as possible.”
Information from individual research councils:
Researchers funded by AHRC requiring the use of pieces of kit worth >£10,000 will need to seek it elsewhere in the community, and so are potential users of equipment.data.
BBSRC has also supported its strategically-funded institutes in the development of equipment registers, to enable their participation in national equipment sharing initiatives. The BBSRC research institutes already contribute to equipment.data, and have done since 2013. BBSRC supports the purchase of equipment or use of existing facilities, thereby facilitating sharing.
ESRC publishes guidance for equipment funding. In ESRC’s general Research Funding Guide equipment sharing is implied in the expectation that researchers will provide “evidence of an evaluation of the use of existing relevant capital assets” when applying for equipment costing between £10,000 (£8,330 excluding VAT) and £138,000 (£115,000 excluding VAT).
MRC grant guidelines state: “Where equipment purchased under a previous MRC grant is to be used in the new project, a share of the continuing maintenance cost attributable to the new work can be sought unless already provided by other grant support.” In their detailed guidance, bidders are asked “why can the item not be used/ borrowed from elsewhere”.
NERC runs a number of facilities including equipment sharing, e.g.
• Equipment Pool: “Our safety equipment pool is located at NERC’s Swindon office. You can borrow equipment for short/medium term use at NERC sites…. If you need to use equipment for longer periods you must buy your own. Make sure you build this into your project planning and budget at an early stage.”
• The NERC Geophysical Equipment Facility (GEF) loans equipment suitable for geophysical research free of charge to universities and other institutes engaged in environmental research within the NERC remit.
• National Marine Facilities provide technical services including staff and the National Marine Equipment Pool (NMEP) to the NERC marine facilities programme. There are further details of these facilities on the National Oceanography Centre website
NERC expects bidders to complete a Justification of Resources. Researchers are asked to confirm that the piece of equipment is not readily available for use within their institution, or any other assessable location (for instance by referring to any asset registers consulted). NERC plans to reduce the long-term running costs of large facilities – such as research ships, planes and monitoring networks – by investing in new sensors and robotic technology, and by sharing facilities with UK and international partners.
STFC is an equipment sharing body as well as a funder. STFC funds and operates a number of large science facilities on behalf of the UK, located both within and outside of the UK. Many of the facilities offer research and development access to both academic and commercial users. They use standard equipment purchase guidelines on grants.
CRUK does not have any particular condition to require sharing of equipment purchased for research.
Currently has no published policy on equipment use or sharing.
Equipment and facilities sharing between universities is an opportunity to ensure optimal use of high-cost, often tax-payer funded, equipment. Where ever possible researchers should investigate options for sharing, and Jisc’s equipment.data service is a useful shortcut to access information about c. 14000 pieces of kit!