Now if I was a master of popular culture, which I am not having spent my youth with my nose in a book or walking on some lonely mountainside then I would be able to link the title to song lyrics or film titles in some witty way. I have this nagging feeling that I should be able to do this, but have to admit to abject failure in the attempt; may be someone else can help?
The word renegade is an interesting one and for someone who is a natural rebel, tilting at the system, has some appeal. But some of those systems are important and I find myself having to be an ‘enforcer’ of those systems. So what systems am I trying to gently remind you of? Well it is those that pertain to external bidding. We have uncovered a few renegades recently who are for whatever reason – over enthusiasm is my favoured explanation – have been circumventing our well established systems for dealing with research and knowledge exchange grants. The process is absolutely clear; all external bids whether they are for teaching, research or knowledge exchange must be costed by RKE Ops, logged on RED our internal funding database, signed off via an APF and subject before acceptance to a contract approval process. I know that some of you see these systems as ‘bureaucracy’ or interference with academic freedom and another obstacle in the way of you doing your job. I have heard all of this recently in response to the changes we are making to the APF process, but these systems are in place for good reason and it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of what they are.
Well first off we have a standard costing methodology that ensure that we recover where possible the full cost of a research or knowledge exchange bid and when possible for commercial work make a small profit if this is appropriate. Staff time needs to be costed as does the overheads that go with it from heat and lighting through to the IT and estate infrastructure we provide. Even when the total value of an award is limited we need to know the true cost to the organisation of an activity, so that we can acknowledge and accept the implicit cross-subsidy that is occurring. We also need to capture what we bid for in order to make our statutory returns to HESA and for Schools to monitor performance against both their budget and performance targets as set out in BU2018. There is also a well-established hierarchy of financial and contractual levels at which different people within the organisation can approve things. For example, anything above £500k needs a signature from a member of the BU Board. Contracts need to be vetted to ensure that the terms and conditions are not punitive to staff or the University and that our intellectual freedom and property is being protected and preserved. This is all routine and standard stuff for RKE Ops and is all taken care of for you; it is not a bureaucracy but a necessary process of making an application for external funding.
In the last three years RKE Ops have established a uniformity of approach and support across BU and are committed to improving the efficiency of their systems and the service they provide. In fact we are in the process of reviewing both and will be making further changes later in the year to improve the service they offer. There are occasional log jams, particularly around contract approval, but the more business we do on our own terms and conditions the less these are. RKE Ops and I work with Legal Services to identify issues and challenges and I am always interested to hear of problems or sources of delay with a view to seeing what can be done to resolve them. But no system is perfect and I would like to emphasise that ours is no more bureaucratic that of other HEI’s whatever people may say! So my final parting shot is that these systems are there for a reason, are not an obstacle or an impediment to bidding, are not unusual within the sector and need to be complied with; not to do so is a matter with consequences.
The renegades are being contacted individually and gently educated in the error of their ways and are I am sure they are just isolated cases, but I do want to reinforce the message. If you are making an external bid of any sort talk to RKE Ops and they will not only help and support you but will make sure that the correct protocols are followed.