A unique toolkit has been launched to make it easier for universities to share research equipment, and as a result increase research excellence and improve efficiencies.
The N8 Equipment Sharing Toolkit has been developed by the N8 Research Partnership to address many of the operational issues that can arise when university research equipment is shared. It was formally launched today, 13 February 2014 at an event involving Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the Universities UK Group on Efficiency and representatives from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The benefits of sharing research equipment can be significant. These include creating concentrations of research activity and partnerships with industry to drive excellence, and it is envisaged that in time, the toolkit will also be used to make university research equipment available to business. Collaboration also increases the impact of research by allowing capital items too large for a single university to be purchased and ensuring researchers have access to state-of-the-art equipment.
Comprising a set of guiding principles and templates, the toolkit covers four key areas:
- Health and Safety
- Pricing and Charging
- Contracts and Legal
Much of the work in developing the toolkit has focussed on creating a framework to enable universities sharing equipment to meet the terms of VAT cost sharing models – traditionally seen as a barrier for sharing research assets – and as a result, mitigate additional VAT charges. This element of the toolkit has been reviewed and validated by business consultants Deloitte and HM Revenue and Customs, and is the first set of VAT guidance of this type to be approved in the HE sector.
Professor Luke Georghiou, Vice-President, Research & Innovation at the University of Manchester who led the project said: “Having access to the best equipment ensures that our researchers can stay at the leading edge and keep the UK in its position as the most effective producer of scientific knowledge. Effective sharing magnifies both of those benefits but can only work if we manage the process properly. This report guides us towards where those benefits can be found and makes sharing a realistic and practical prospect.”
The toolkit was developed by the N8 Research Capital Operational Infrastructure Group, chaired by Sarah Fulton, Director of Research and Innovation Services at the University of Sheffield, who said: “Our aim in making it easier to share equipment is to allow us to do better research more cost-effectively. As the number of our research collaborations increase we hope that the N8 Equipment Sharing Toolkit will enable both individual academics and research groups to find the most appropriate solution for their circumstances.”
Also announced today was the next phase of work on efficiency and effectiveness in universities, led by Universities UK and chaired by Professor Sir Ian Diamond. This has a work strand focused on asset sharing which will be led by the N8 Research Partnership on behalf of the sector. Professor Sir Ian Diamond commented: “Our universities have consistently shown that they can rise to the challenge of delivering efficiency and value for money while continuing to provide world class teaching, learning and research. We know that the funding environment will continue to be difficult, and so working with colleagues in BIS I am pleased that we are launching a second phase of work on efficiency and effectiveness in universities. The N8 equipment sharing toolkit presented here today is a vital part of our programme.”
The N8 Equipment Sharing Toolkit builds on work funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to map the research equipment across the N8 universities and identify the opportunities for greater collaboration. Lesley Thompson, Director, Sciences and Engineering at EPSRC, added: “With the pressure on public funding the moves made by the sector to enhance efficiency is truly impressive. The N8 equipment toolkit is a great example of engineering efficiency helping to maintain our excellence with impact.”
The toolkit has been designed to be flexible – templates can be used together or in isolation to create a bespoke agreement covering the various aspects of sharing of equipment both within a single university and between institutions. The guidance will be updated regularly as user experience is gained and demand increases. The N8 Equipment Sharing Toolkit is available on the N8 website.