For frequently asked questions specific to an individual facility please select from the drop down menu above and click 'show'
Q: What are the facts and figures about Norwich Research Park's research facilities?
The research base that research facilities support attracted funding of £79.4m in 2011-12.
The investment in equipment in these shared facilities is £40.6m.
A typical 'big ticket' instrument costs £285,000. It's research usefulness will last for 7 years before beginning to be overtaken by new technology and by 10 years old it is considered out of date.
Over an asset's 10 year life, the running costs in staff time, maintenance and consumables are approximately equal to the initial capital outlay.
Utilisation rates are low compared with industrial or clinical equipment. It is not atypical for an instrument to be in use 17% of the available time. Even in the busiest facilities, average utilisation is 35% of practical capacity.
The facilities recover 45% of their runnning costs in aggregate. The target is to get cost recoveries up to 100%.
Commercial and cross-Norwich Research Park sources of income account for 13% of total income earned by the research facilities externally. The remainder comes from grants or institutional subsidy.
Q: Will VAT be added when I use these facilities?
For contract research, such as is commonly commissioned by industry for private benefit, VAT will be applied. For collaborative research between academics funded by RCUK or similar charities, where results are made public, VAT will not typically be added, although care may need to be taken on the wording of the contract.
The organisations on the Norwich Research Park have entered into an umbrella research collaboration agreement governing the framework within which they share research facilities. This means that each individual collaboration between researchers on the Research Park will not normally require a separate agreement.
The VAT framework governing the Norwich Research Park research facilities is available as a download as part of the 'HMRC clarifies VAT treatment of public and charity funded research' item on the 'News' part of the website, dated 25 April 2013.
Q: What is the motivation for sharing scientific equipment in this way?
Investment in the latest equipment, and the staff needed to run the equipment, makes operating world-class research facilities very expensive. Also, utilisation rates in a research environment are typically low compared to industrial and clincal settings. The economies of scale that can be achieved by sharing are very attractive.
An additional incentive is that capital funding of the UK research sector is severely limited. This isn’t just a temporary effect of the financial crisis. The recent ‘Wakeham’ report identified low asset utilisation in the research sector as a significant problem in the UK and Research Councils have responded by insisting that sharing of equipment becomes a requirement of public investment from now on.
A final catalyst has been the investment of £26m by the UK Government to drive the economic development capacity of the Norwich Research Park. Opening up research facilities previously only available to a limited number of academics is an attractive opportunity for commercial businesses.
Clusters of equipment sharing partnerships are forming elsewhere in the UK but the Norwich Research Park is in the fortunate position of all its facilities being in close physical proximity.
Ultimately, the aim is to benefit the research facilities, in terms of utilisation and investment, and the scientific capacity of the whole of the Norwich Research Park.
Q: Is this all the equipment available on the Norwich Research Park?
The facilities in the virtual Technology Centre are restricted only to instruments and skills that are made available to all researchers on the Norwich Research Park as a research 'service'.
Some intruments and skills are unique to individual research groups and these are typically not included from the Centre. Nevertheless these groups remain open to collaborations with academics and industry and their exclusion from the website does not mean they are not 'open for business'.
Q: How will the Centre keep up with the latest scientific advances?
The Centre has been set up as a 'virtual ' technology centre specifically to ensure the research facilities remain physically and emotionally embedded within an ethos of scientific excellence.
There will be no change to the line management of any of the people in the research facilities. This will be no institutional surrender of equipment. There will be no one who is ‘head’ of this virtual organisation. All research facilities will continue to be aligned with research.
There will be a co-ordinating committee but the legal agreements explicitly say the committee is an advisory committee only. All decision-making sovereignty remains with the Norwich Research Park organisations.
Q: Will more realistic access charges mean that usage actually falls?
The new standardised methodology for calculating Full Economic Costs (FEC) does raise concerns but the prices used in the preparation of grants must be more realistic.
In the past, the researchers have tended to under-price the facilities costs in grant proposals for fear the application will be rejected as ‘too expensive’. The economic reality of being squeezed for capital funds while at the same time expected to share facilities more, make this practice unsustainable. The income coming into the organisations from external grants needs to reflect the underlying economics more accurately or the facilities will suffer.
A further mitigating factor is the audit of our costing and pricing policy by RCUK. Endorsement of our methodology means that our costs per hour, or cost per unit of facility access will, in some respects, have been pre-approved. In this situation, only the time requested, not the cost of the time, will be challengeable by research grant committees.
The implementation of the standardised FEC prices within the internal financial systems of each organisation is a challenge and the detailed mechanics of how this will work in practice continue to be developed with local finance teams.
Q: How with the new Centre be run?
An umbrella research facilities collaboration agreement has been formalised between the research organisations on the Norwich Research Park. This legal agreement brings into existence a Research Facilities Coordination Committee to oversee the virtual Technology Centre.
The Norwich Research Park's Science Strategy Board have asked Dr Steve Rawsthorne, Science Operations Manager at the John Innes Centre, to chair the new committee. Membership includes academic leads of each research facility and those responsible at each organisation for recommending investment priorities.
The terms of reference of the new committee are summarised in Research Facilities Coordination Committee terms of reference agreed item in the 'News' part of the website, dated 18th June 2013.