Strategic Research Fund

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The Strategic Research Fund (SRF) was developed in response to Priority 10 of the University’s Strategic Plan 2018-2024 (‘To increase the scale and scope of our central research fund to increase our capacity to pump prime and to match fund major research initiatives’) and approved by Council in July 2019.

The SRF was created to increase the University’s capacity to make major transformative investments in researchers and research. Such transformative investments are designed to help the University to remain globally competitive, to secure and nurture research leadership, to enter new research areas at scale, to address major research challenges that require multi-disciplinary and collaborative responses, or to capitalise on large external opportunities that are an increasingly dominant feature of the research funding landscape.

The SRF is funded from a range of internal sources, including returns to the University centrally from research commercialisation activities (such as licensing income and proceeds from the disposal of the University’s founder shareholdings in its spin-out companies). The amount of funding that the SRF has available to allocate in any given year will therefore vary (as will the amounts awarded in any year). As the SRF was created to invest at a scale not possible within existing funding streams (such as the John Fell Fund) it expects to make a small number of investments (one to five) in any one year.

 

To build lasting research capacity through major transformative co-investments in researchers and research that:

  • positions the University for global pre-eminence and fosters a cohort of outstanding researchers and research leaders  
  • are beyond the means of any single unit, and typically span disciplines and existing internal structures
  • demonstrate the case for ongoing sustainability through departmental/divisional co-investment both alongside and beyond the SRF-funded period
     

 

Investments typically demonstrate the following features:

  • transformative – establish the lasting change the investment will enable at Oxford, beyond the SRF funding period; start a new, or significantly develop an existing area of research activity which positions the University to be the global leader. 
  • people-focused – the primary focus is investing in researchers and permanent1 (as opposed to fixed-term) research positions to build capacity and capability: the investment must be from the people ‘outwards’, with clear plans to build future leaders and enable succession-planning within the period of investment, aligning the university investment with the commitment to support researcher career development.2  
  • how the investment advances University strategies on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion3,4 and Environmental Sustainability5.  
  • sustainable – SRF investments are non-recurrent and pump-priming, with a demonstrable case for sustaining the activity within academic divisions and units, through co-investment and income generation plans beyond the SRF funding period, building ongoing research capacity and succession planning to embed the lasting change6. SRF takes the up-front risk so departments/divisions can make new established hires. For example, if an initiative receives an SRF investment for five years then it would be expected for a department/unit to begin to co-invest in these posts and/or generate external income covering these costs by year 3, and therefore the proportionate reduction of SRF funds to departmental funds occurs during year 3 to 5.
  • at scale – investments have a clear vision for transformation, and aim to effect or create a critical mass of researchers and research capability. Investments are not ‘business as usual’ and are not currently fundable within the departments’/divisions’ normal budgets or by other established internal and external funding mechanisms
  • interdisciplinary – investments will be preferred where transformation occurs beyond a single unit or disciplinary area. Cross-divisional investments will be particularly encouraged.
  • matching – one important use of the SRF will be in acting as an institutional commitment or as matching funding to major and strategic external opportunities which would enable transformation at Oxford in line with the central aim of SRF.

1. Contract type | HR Support (ox.ac.uk) Permanent contracts 

2. The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers | University of Oxford
3. Equality Policy | Equality and Diversity Unit (ox.ac.uk)
4. Strategic plan 2018-24 | University of Oxford

5. Environmental Sustainability Strategy | Sustainability (ox.ac.uk)
6. SRF is not equivalent to external funding. We would not normally expect departments’ ongoing commitment to SRF-funded posts to be subject to securing future external funding for them (which is the expectation of open-ended externally funded contracts). However, there is nothing precluding departments/units obtaining future external funding to contribute to such posts (as with any departmentally-funded positions), but the ongoing commitment to SRF-initiated positions should not be contingent on it.

People

Emphasis is on investment in people and creating new ongoing posts. SRF investments should normally create permanent posts and this is a standard requirement in relation to senior level SRF-initiated posts (e.g. RSIV, senior research fellow, APTF posts). One model is to contribute to the package of support around a new institute/centre/research area, including the research team (researchers, postdoctoral staff, technicians and support staff), start-up package for an incoming research leader / director, and relevant DI non-staff costs with appropriate links to other sources of internal funds within the University, as well as external funders. Initial SRF investments in Oxford NetZero and the ZERO Institute are examples of this model. An alternative model (such as seen in the SRF investment in Digital Scholarship @ Oxford) might be for a current research leader to develop a new capability that underpins and significantly advances research across a broad spectrum of disciplines through the activity of these ongoing posts. 

More details can be found in the case studies on the SRF how to apply page. Please note that these are not the only approaches. The SRF is open to creative approaches to meeting its goals which are consistent with the expected features set out above. The SRF Board also particularly welcomes investments that contribute to the University’s strategic commitment to develop an increasingly diverse staffing profile.

Equipment matching

SRF is intended primarily as a people-focused scheme. However, some SRF investment cases may seek elements of equipment matching-funding where there are major strategic opportunities that fall outside the scope of the large equipment category of the John Fell Fund or external sources, and where this forms part of an essential start-up package for an incoming research leader and research team. 

‘Business as usual' activity

For example: 
•    Established academic posts already approved in divisional plans (although they may be part of an overall case)
•    Proleptic appointments
•    Large programme-style research projects with a defined end point.

Overheads

Overhead costs (Estates and Indirects from fEC) will form part of departmental contributions in-kind.
Local calculations of infrastructure costs (e.g., infrastructure charges, capital and premises charges) are also not in scope of funding to be provided by the SRF.

Studentship costs

Departments will be expected to cover studentship costs from existing sources, as these are not open-ended research positions. Only in exceptional circumstances will this cost be considered, where the applicant articulates how studentship(s) could be a mechanism for lasting transformation of the Oxford research landscape.

Activity appropriate for other funding sources

SRF will not be used as an alternative to obtaining funds through other existing internal or external sources (e.g. John Fell Fund, Programme/Centre grants).

To make a case for ensuring the sustainability of the initiative beyond the SRF investment period will require discussion and agreement across participating departments and divisions. SRF investment de-risks the establishment of an initiative and creation of posts for departments, but over time, new posts should be factored into departmental/ divisional budget planning. Gradually, the department/ faculty (or external funds sought) will take-up the costs, and the proportion that SRF funds are covering will decrease. In this way the SRF funds will taper off over time.

Conversations with relevant departments can be facilitated by the leading division. Contact the division and the SRD team early in the process to help with this budget forecasting, with articulating the transformative vision, aims and objectives of the initiative, and with addressing all other aspects relevant to SRF objectives and expectations. 
Full guidance on eligible costs and how to reflect departmental co-investment within the budget is available to support the development of proposals to the SRF via the Guidance link on the right. 

The SRF is overseen, and investment decisions made, by the SRF Board. The SRF Board comprises the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), Pro-Vice-Chancellor (People and Digital) and the heads of the academic divisions. The SRF Board may draw on advice from external academic or other advisors as required. The SRF Board provides reports to Research & Innovation Committee.
The SRF Board oversees a portfolio of potential investment cases at various stages of readiness. This is supplemented by time-critical opportunities (e.g. providing funding contributions to major externally-funded programmes and initiatives) as they emerge.
 

 

An important feature of some SRF investments is to provide institutional commitment or matched funding to major and strategic external funding opportunities that will enable transformation at Oxford. The SRF Board will typically only consider these elements to a proposal where institutional funding is an explicit requirement of the external funder.  

All proposals require the explicit approval of all of the heads of departments for the principal applicant and co-investigators or any department committing resources to the proposal. Proposals must also have divisional approval. If the initiative spans divisions, a lead division must be identified, and agreement with participating divisions sought. The (lead) division will only bring proposals that they support to the SRF Board for discussion, with prioritisation in the case of multiple bids. See 'how to apply' for more details.

Timescales

The SRF Board is scheduled to meet every two months, with divisions submitting proposals to Research Services a fortnight ahead of each board meeting. The head of the division leading a proposal will make the case to the Board (see Governance above); a strong endorsement from the head(s) of division is key to gaining approval from the SRF Board. 

From the development of concept to the SRF Board and start-up of an initiative may take some time. Average recruitment time for a research leader to an initiative can be 18 months. Make sure you discuss the expected timeframe and any urgency with the lead divisional contact. 

Dates of forthcoming board meetings   

12th October 2022

8th December 2022

6th March 2023

11th May 2023

6th July 2023