UKRI Funding Service (TFS) - what is the new system? (video transcript)

UKRI Funding Service (TFS) - what is the new system?

Presentation delivered by Sarah McMillan on 2 August 2023

So these changes you probably know to how you apply for UKRI funding have been quite a long time in the making, years in the making, but they're finally happening, and the idea today is just to take everyone through what we know so far. It's going to be at quite a high level because we do only have 30 minutes and the idea is it's sort of an introduction for anyone who hasn't used TFS yet. TFS is The Funding Service - very excitingly, imaginatively titled, The Funding Service - just to help familiarise you with the system and also perhaps just to share a few tips of things we have learned so far that you might use when you come to actually apply - we'll obviously keep sharing tips and knowledge as as it kind of grows as well.

So just to say what we'll cover today. So first of all, just a quick bit of context. Why is UKRI bringing in The Funding Service? What are the changes? What to expect? How is it different from JeS? We'll will look very briefly at the system and then as Xavier said, hopefully we'll have time for a few questions at the end.

So, first thing's first. Why? Why is UKRI bringing in this system? So it's part of what they call the 'simpler and better funding programme'. So this isn't just about how you apply, it as part of a much bigger kind of programme of change for all of the Research Councils and the aim of it is to deliver what they call a single consistent user- centred service that reduces the burden of finding, applying for, and managing research funding for all users.

So what this is, essentially, is UKRI trying to streamline how people interact with it. So, to streamline its approach to grant making, to make it more like one coherent body as opposed to a sort of series of disparate funding councils that all operate in different ways with different rules, with different approaches to applying, they're trying to iron out the discrepancies basically, and get a bit of consistency across what they call now their 'opportunities'. So 'opportunities', if you see that term, it's the new phrase, a new word for funding schemes, and it's all part of the much bigger picture as well to try and reduce research bureaucracy. So it should be simpler.

So the main elements of this simpler, better funding service, first of all and you've probably seen this already, the UKRI Funding Finder, so that's where you can see all of the opportunities advertised in one place online. Then the resume for research and innovation, which was first piloted by the Royal Society. This is going to replace any track record that is currently required or was previously required in a funding application, and then the bit we're here to talk about today - The Funding Service itself, and the idea of this is you can track your whole application from submission through to grant management and this is the replacement for JeS. And across this funding system, there's going to be standard application questions and criteria for all the councils, so a lot more consistency, at least for the sort of standard responsive mode grants.

In terms of time scales, basically JeS will cease to exist in theory in January 2024, so by then all applications on live projects should be managed through the new funding service. Inevitably, every Council is working to a slightly different time scale. We'll share these slides and there are some hyperlinks there. So, if you're interested in a particular funding Council, that will link you through to kind of what the state of play is with whichever Council is you're interested in.

Something else you might have noticed is that TFS is being introduced in stages, so some schemes move to TFS much earlier than others. Some councils moved earlier than others and also what you might have seen now is that some schemes which were previously just open, usually standard responsive mode type calls, they now operate in rounds and there are typically two or three of these rounds every year, but they're more sort of 'funding windows' or you might call them ''batching periods', and they have deadlines. They're basically designed to ensure that there's consistency in certain periods when people are applying, and all of these rounds are now advertised as individual calls or individual opportunities on the Funding Finder. So for instance, if we looked at the Funding Finder for an EPSRC Open Fellowship, you can actually see now what the time scale would be if you applied for the next round of that. So before, perhaps, your application went into a bit of a void, but hopefully now you get an idea of when the panel will meet, when there might be an interview, and also when you're likely to hear the outcome. So there's just a little bit more of a sense of the time scale that UKRI are working to.

So just something to bear in mind - if you miss one of these deadlines, there will be another opportunity, but you just need to bear in mind that you'll have to restart your application for the next round. The reason for that is that the round system is basically there to try and ensure some fairness so that applicants are judged against the same criteria and under the same conditions whilst UKRI continues to implement changes to the system. So this TFS system isn't finalised by any means, they're going to be refinements going on over the next few months before we get to a happy place, but we're told that eventually UKRI are going to return to the open call with no deadlines for responsive mode applications, so this is a bit of a transition period that we're all in at the moment.

Just a couple of notes - if you have a live grant that will be migrated to The Funding Service over the next few months and something that people have often asked is 'will the budgets be affected?' and we've been assured that all of the Councils still have the same budget despite all of these changes.

So probably the main thing that you all interested in is kind of how has the assessment itself changed? So as I mentioned, the assessment criteria and the questions that are associated with those criteria have been standardised across all of the research councils and they're just there on the right hand side. So there are now five key criteria - we have vision, approach, applicant and team capability to deliver, resources and cost justification, ethics and responsible research and innovation. And having said it's all standardised, there is inevitably opportunity-specific criteria as well for particular schemes, so if you were applying for a fellowship, for example, you might have to talk about leadership or personal development, but those five are the main criteria that you will be judged on, and each of those criteria will have a set of questions associated with them. So do respond to those questions in the right part of the application.

Something that you might have noticed there - there's no reference to primary and secondary assessment criteria, so that's how many of the councils used to work. Now we are being told that all of these are treated equally. So do take this seriously, things like ethics and responsible research, as you would your own research methodologies and the vision of your research as well. There's usually a word count associated with each section, so you can you can use that to judge the length of each section, but all of these are being treated much more equally than they they would have been before.

Typically, and eventually, answers to all of these criteria and questions are going to just be provided in text boxes on the system. So the the dream, the end of all this is to not have any attachments. There are still some schemes that are going to require attachments, so whilst they are ironing out issues around how to put in formulas or equations, or images, things like that, there are attachments for some schemes but eventually that should go.

What we know about how applications will be assessed is that reviewers will actually see exactly the same thing as applicants, so they will just be given the criteria for the particular scheme and asked to assess you against those criteria. They won't be privy to anything additional, anything special. So do follow the criteria and the questions really closely.

Something else we've been assured about as well is that whilst the panel processes have all been updated to meet the new time scales and deal with the new assessment processes, the panels themselves are essentially the same. So for instance, there was a Mathematical Sciences panel, which dealt with applications through JeS, and that same panel will deal with applications through The Funding Service, so there's no difference behind the scenes there.

So based on all that, perhaps just a few tips on things that we've learned so far from our trial and error, our trials with the system. So often you will have to upload a PDF of some elements of the application - so vision and approach is one of these particular sections. Some councils have already implemented a pure textbox approach and I think people like BBSRC have done that. But you know for others like EPSRC, this section forms a separate PDF upload. Typically it's 6 pages, but always check and the advice that we've had from the funders is that if you're writing a vision and approach section, the vision should be roughly 1 to 2 pages, maybe more towards 2 if it's a fellowship, and the remainer of the space you have should focus on the approach, kind of the methodology and that sort of thing.

Then we've got the applicant and team capability to delete to deliver. So this is slightly different from what you might have seen before. So previously, you had to upload CVs for any named researchers, usually, or you had to write a track record for the principal investigator and and any co- investigators. So now the whole team, whether that's one person or 10 people, is assessed via something called the 'resume for research and innovation' which is a very different approach. It's been very inspired by the EU's approach to assessing funding applications. We recently had a session on that in EPS, so I've put a link here to the resources that are available if anyone wants to look, and there's also some material on UKRI's own website about writing this particular section.

Then we've got ethics and responsible research and innovation. Now this is something that I'm sure everyone does in their research, but UKRI are now asking people to articulate it in the application as well. So if you need any help with that, there are some quite useful tools. Again, they are from EU projects, but they've been developed to help you reflect on the potential ethical questions or the more long term implications of your research. So there's just three there, but they are all quite useful ways of of developing a response to this part of the application.

Then just a couple of other things to be aware of - so at the moment only the project lead has editing rights to the application. So we as Research Support should be getting this ability in September, but your Co-investigators won't get that ability to edit the application for some time after, so do be aware if you're the project lead, it's going to be your responsibility to edit the application, upload any documents, that kind of thing and no one else is able to do that for you. So it's probably a really good idea to continue working outside the system on your applications, either through Google Docs or any other way of sharing that you commonly use.

Then finally, just a little thing to be aware of - applications in JeS go to a pool within the University of people who are there to support your particular area. At the moment The Funding Service doesn't have this pool capability. It will eventually, but currently every person with an administrator access to The Funding Service gets notified about every application that goes in. So it's just a really good idea to notify whoever you've been working with, so that's usually what we now call the Research Development Officer - your researcher facilitators - notify them via e-mail when you've actually submitted your application so that nothing gets missed.

OK, more changes then. So something else that it's really important to be aware of is that there are actually now new ways of defining projects roles in The Funding Service. So these again are all on the right. Some are very self-explanatory, so project lead is the the PI, Principal Investigator, a slightly more exciting title for Post-Doc now is Research and Innovation Associate, and the reason that UKRI has brought in these changes is that it basically wants to kind of widen the diversity of people who can be funded or who they will fund as well as the range of ideas that they want to fund as well. So it's really good from a sense that it's recognising the inputs of everyone to a research project. So, for instance, technicians now are going to be recognised as fully-fledged members of the project team, but there are some implications of that just to be aware of. So anyone who is termed professional enabling staff and any technicians, they attract overheads now and indirect costs. So it will affect the budget because those posts never used to attract overheads. So something we're just encouraging you to do is just to to be aware of that. Obviously we'll continue to use WorkTribe for now to cost these roles, but WorkTribe hasn't yet caught up with The Funding Service, so it will be costing technicians slightly differently for now, just to capture those estates and indirect costs, that's something that your research facilitator will take care of, but just be aware that it will affect you budget slightly.

If you've got project partners, the definition of those hasn't changed at all. That's still the same, and if you're wondering whether this applies to you, UKRI have said that if you are applying for an opportunity that opened on or after 22nd May in The Funding Service, then you should use these new roles and you should cost them accordingly. If it opened prior to that, you can just use things as they as they were  - if you're still using JeS, use as as it was before. 

So something that's actually good news - some things that you don't have to do anymore - so CVs for named researchers are no longer required. That's covered in the team resume for research and innovation. You don't need equipment, quotes, or business cases. You don't need technical assessments, and you don't need nominated reviewers.

So with the reviewers, something to bear in mind is be really kind of careful and explicit when you're choosing the particular research theme you think your work falls into, so you'll be asked to do that and make your summaries very clear and very accessible to a lay person. So the programme manager at UKRI, because they'll be using those to send out your applications for review, so that suddenly becomes a lot more important if you're not nominating reviewers.

Then a final thing, just to be aware of, is that some schemes no longer require institutional letters of support. So do check very carefully. Actually, the main takeaway from this is read the guidelines really carefully. But if your scheme that you want to apply to, just requires you to fill in a text box on the application form saying what the school you're in will provide you in terms of contribution, we will be asking your head of school to confirm via e-mail that those contributions are all OK and you'll need to send that to your research facilitator or development officer in order to add it to WorkTribe.

So finally, just a few things to take away, so implications for you as applicants. I think it's probably fair to say that there isn't a major change in the fundamental mechanics of applying. The system isn't radically different. It does look nicer, and I'll show you what it looks like in a minute. But, there is a fairly significant change in how the criteria are applied, so they're not just a variation of what they used to be. You do need to think about these applications in a fresh way, in a new way, and answer the questions explicitly that you're you're being asked under against all of those criteria. So try and treat it as something new. Do you try and give the research offices as much notice as possible. In EPS, we're asking for four weeks notice. If you would like to submit through TFS for the September deadline, you should have had an email about that if you're in EPS and other colleges might be applying something similar, so so do keep an eye out for anything like that,

Then finally, we've had people asking a lot - is it wise to strategise about when to apply? So should we wait for the following round, should we try and get an application in as soon as possible? I think the advice still remains - submit when your application is as strong as it can be. That's what we would say. So, just a final thing here. I'll share these, but your research development officer can help. We have a page on the Intranet site which has some tips as well and some links and there's various advice and guidance from UKRI on their website. And finally, we mentioned this system is still notfinished format yet. So there is an opportunity to provide feedback on how it's evolving. If there are things you find particularly troublesome or frustrating, or ideas you have to improve it, you can give UKRI feedback on the new funding service.

So with that, I'm just gonna stop sharing this particular screen and I'm going to show you what the system looks like in about two minutes very quickly. So I showed you the timeline - here it is again, for an EPSRC open fellowship. So the way you would apply is just to go to the Funding Finder and find the opportunity you want to and the Funding Finder page has all of the details of the call on it. So you can get all these headings here - it will tell you exactly who's eligible and how to apply.

So if you want to apply for anything we'd just encourage you to, instead of starting an application, read the guidelines here. You can also download them as a PDF so you don't miss anything. But if you decide you do want to apply, you can just start the application, and as I said before, only you can edit it as the PI, so please confirm you'll be leading the project if the application is successful. I confirm, I understand over the only person who can edit it, so don't delegate this section this parts to someone like a post doc or something like that because it would need to be in your name as the PI will project need. So I started an application for fellowship here, calling myself the fellow. So what you have here now is basically, it just replicates what you could see on the Core page. So a few things to just to flag up. So we mentioned you'll have to pick now a thematic area that your work falls into. So do that so it can go out to the right kind of reviewers.

You'll have various boxes that you need to fill in. If they are not boxes, you'll be instructed kind of on what to do so this is exactly the same as the Core page. It tells you exactly what questions you have to answer, how you have to approach it, and in this instance you need to upload a PDF.

Previously if you needed a cover letter to let anyone know about sensitive information. For instance, you had a career break or you're not available for an interview, you can say that information in sensitive information and then resources and costs. This is actually very similar to JeS. So you will just go in to your university's costs, you can find all of the directly allocated, directly incurred - it's all very high level here and you can allocate staff time and costs by clicking through to the relevant people saying what kind of costing it is, how long they're on the project and what the totals are and your research facilitator can help you with the cost for this. But you will again, you'll need to input them yourself because only you can edit the application. So with that, I'm gonna stop sharing.


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