Commissioning of Research

The funding agencies determine who can apply for a call which, according to the interviewees, varies between calls. Some interviewees mentioned that regarding the research councils, it is mostly only UK publicly funded universities and pre-recognised research centres that are eligible to apply. Sometimes they would be encouraged or required to have other partners which would, however, usually not be directly sponsored. Other funders would generally have broader eligibility requirements regarding the lead institution and would also partly fund other partners. In addition to defining the eligibility of organisations to apply, the funder rules often stipulate requirements as to the person of the PI (e.g. length of employment in the applying institution), the number of applications from one institution and the total value of the application. Government departments and local authorities would issue a request to tender. In these scenarios tendering organisations would need to sign declarations that they will not behave anti-competitively by exchanging information or deterring others from bidding. To an extent it would be possible to tender to become a preferred provider in which case, calls would then occasionally only be issued to the preferred providers. According to an interviewee working in social sciences, the conditions for contracts with the latter group of funders would become increasingly hard. She even mentioned one example where a local council contractually required the contract price to be decreased during the duration of the project, even though that had never been invoked.

If the research conducted under public calls can be classified as economic activity, it would need to be commissioned according to the Altmark criteria (i.e. usually as a public procurement procedure in line with the relevant directives)[1] or following the rules set out in para 31 seq of the Research Framework (Chap. 3 Sect. above). Usually this would mean that calls need to be open to any willing provider, including foreign providers, and either market prices or full costs and reasonable profit need to be charged and, as regards the rules under the Research Framework, wide dissemination must be possible, for it not to be state aid. As has been mentioned above (Sect. 5.3.2), the majority of research conducted with research council funding might not be of an economic nature. If it or research conducted with funding from other public sources would have to be classified as such, the limitations in eligibility would probably need to be regarded as discriminatory and thus potentially as state aid to certain providers. Furthermore, whilst government departments and local authorities would usually tender, the fact that they often do not pay ‘full costs plus’ in the end and that they employ contract conditions forcing the contract price to decrease during a project, might have to be regarded as anti-competitive.

  • [1] Now Directive 2014/24/EU on public procurement and repealing Directive 2004/18/EC OJ[2014] L 94/65.
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