Trust-Based Accounting Could Incentivize Timid Partnership


The European Commission has announced it will introduce a trust-based accounting system for research grants, but industry organizations have warned that the reform could deter them from joining new partners.

Since 2018, the commission has been piloting a lump sum accounting system, under which beneficiaries are reimbursed on the condition that they can prove that the work has been completed, rather than being required to submit line item budgets and time sheets. Staff.

The lawsuit was seen as a blow to the research bureaucracy, and commission officials confirmed they had Times Higher Education that Horizon Europe – Brussels’ new funding program – will make more use of block grants.

But groups representing research institutions say the rollout is premature.

“The lump sum is good when it’s operational and as long as everyone is doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Poul Petersen, senior consultant at the University of Copenhagen’s Office of Research Services, which is coordinating a project lump sum as part of the pilot. “I was a scientist and I know how much scientists hate timesheets.

“The challenge on our side is that if you get the grant – and it’s a good grant with industry and universities involved – and something goes wrong, the lump sum projects are more demanding. If you [have] three recipients in a work package and two do what they are supposed to do but the third does not, then that work package is not completed and the commission will pay zero. We will therefore have to, with the partner who did the work, take over and finalize the work of the defaulting beneficiary before we are paid.

Three industry organizations – the European University Association (EUA), the Cesaer Network of Science and Technology Universities and the European Association of Research and Technology Organizations – have warned that this risk means that universities could be more wary of people with whom they associate.

“Lump sum funding could have very concrete benefits and could greatly help specific types of recipients or specific types of consortia, potentially including universities. But what we don’t have so far is full evidence because the projects haven’t even started reporting yet,” said Enora Pruvot, Deputy Director of Governance, Funding and Development. public policies at the EUA.

Survey respondents from projects involving small companies, smaller budgets and smaller consortia were more positive about lump sum funding, while large companies, universities and other research organizations l were less.

Despite mixed comments, European Union officials said waiting for pilots to end, as affected groups have suggested, would delay rollout until 2027, limiting the benefits of dropping the review of items.

“The timing of expanding the use of lump sums should be determined by when we know it will actually be good for the program, not when it would be best for the administrative goal of a rate of ‘lower error,’ said Christian Ehler, MEP. who co-led the European Parliament’s contribution to the design of Horizon. “This assessment does not show that he is good for the program, as the pilot’s projects are not yet sufficiently developed to draw this conclusion.”

EU officials said flat-rate accounting would be introduced slowly from the second half of 2022, with wider use in 2023, adding that how flat-rate accounting works in the program could also change over time.

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