Funding and sustainability WG 4th FMM

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Report of the break-out session

Chair: Rolly Wiegand

Attendees: Kurt Anderson, Philippe Laissue, Peter O’Toole, Alain Stewart, Andrew Vaughan


Funding of central imaging facilities

The advantages of central facilities were reiterated and it was highlighted that they provide continuous expertise in imaging, facility and equipment maintenance and imaging-related teaching. In some facilities the implementation and development of novel and advanced technologies is also a central interest.

Competition to central facilities – At the local level, central facilities come often under pressure by unwanted internal competition in the host institution. It is not unusual for some senior PIs to buy their own high-end microscopy equipment to save the charges levied by central facilities and to have complete control over the microscopes. This undermines central facilities if this drains a significant number of customers away from them. Furthermore, groups who have bought their own microscopes often do not have the expertise and long-term staff to optimally exploit and maintain the equipment. In addition, to save money groups who ‘own’ their imaging equipment do not set aside funds for future service contracts and once the preliminarily funded contracts and warranties run out, the use of this very expensive equipment stops , which often leaves expensive equipment in individual labs unused once it has passed its ‘warranty phase’.

In order to counteract this trend, it was suggested that funding bodies should ask the applicants for a justification of funds for own high-end imaging equipment rather than applying for funds towards the use of central imaging facilities. The default for granting funds for imaging work should be to fund the use of central facilities to guarantee best value for money for the funding bodies and the researchers.

Communication between funding bodies and the imaging community

Funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust and the Research Councils play an essential role in the funding and sustainability of imaging facilities in the UK. However, communication between the Facility Manager community and BioImaging UK on one hand and the funding bodies on the other seems to be insufficient. It is felt throughout the imaging community that the funding bodies are not aware of many requirements of central imaging facilities and for scientific imaging. Therefore, it was agreed that communication with the funding bodies should be intensified bilaterally. It was felt that this should happen through BioImaging UK with comprehensive input from the Facility Manager community to generate a strong lobby for the imaging community with the aim to optimise financial support for central facilities. To achieve this, the following action points were discussed:

- Continued discussion about the financial requirements - Frequent updates of the appropriate working document/paper of the BioImaging UK working group - Identify contact person(s) at the funding bodies for direct communication - Communication of working papers through BioImaging UK representative(s) - Transparent communication of feedback from funding bodies to the imaging community - Generate a mutually agreed definition of what constitutes a central facility and parameters of how to rate and assess them

Technology-driven and equipment funding streams for central facilities

At present, most funding is provided through applications by individual PIs or groups of PIs. Most of the appropriate funding streams are research-based and hypothesis-driven and the trend to assess grant applications on the basis of PIs’ track records is on the increase. This usually rules out that central facilities can apply for equipment, staff and running costs as part of their long-term running strategy. Ideally, funding bodies would open funding streams that allow central facilities to apply for money for microscopy and peripheral equipment, data analysis infrastructure, facility running costs and supplements for staff costs. In this context, it would be advantageous to have a standardised system of how to assess and rate central facilities. In addition, the trend of discontinuing funding streams that allow technology-based proposals for funding of imaging equipment, staff and technology should be reversed and more options should be available to facility members and PIs.

Full economic costing

The Research Councils in the UK and other funding bodies contribute large amounts of funding via full economic costing (fEC) as part of awarded grant applications to pay towards basic research and admin infrastructure in the host institution. However, it was reiterated by reports from facility managers that the way in which fEC funds are distributed in the host institution, in particular towards imaging facilities vary dramatically. The consensus was that in many cases no funds were directed towards the facilities at all and that on the contrary, the facilities are expected to recoup their expenses entirely from the charges for imaging services. It was mentioned that as for other funds, strong lobbying at College or School level would increase the chance of attracting some fEC funds. Whereas this seems to work for some institutions, other facility managers were highly critical about the present distribution of fEC with regard to the maintenance of imaging facilities. The present trend by many Colleges and Universities to convert central imaging facilities into small research facilities (SRFs) further cements this negative trend, because as a working SRF the facilities are expected to be financially independent with hardly any financial liability left with the host institution. In some cases this even includes the depreciation to accumulate capital to replace large pieces of imaging equipment over time, which obviously puts extreme financial pressure on affected facilities.

Sustainability of central facilities

As has been noted in the past that the most feasible way for central imaging facilities to financially sustain their operations is to impose user charges based on a general business plan. Charges should be transparent and the appropriate information should be easily available to funding bodies during assessment of grant applications. PIs should be made aware of the costs and apply for sufficient funds as part of their grant applications. Replacement costs for expensive pieces of equipment should not be included in the business plans, because it seems unfeasible to cover these costs sufficiently whilst maintaining acceptable levels of charges. As pointed out above, equipment funding streams are required to provide capital for the imaging hardware. At a local level, imaging facilities are encouraged to lobby for more equipment funds from universities through Schools and Colleges, which could come from fEC contributions and general research budgets. A proportion of fEC funds allocated for the use of central facilities, should be paid towards salaries and general facility running costs. To avoid negative effects of internal competition, all equipment purchases should be coordinated with the operations of the local facilities.

The role of Eurobioimaging in UK funding

A brief report of the 2nd Stakeholder Meeting of Euro-Bioimaging (EBI) was given by Martin Spitaler as part of the meeting programme. From the report it became quickly clear that this initiative is a huge undertaking and that it is difficult at this stage to understand what it will be delivering for imaging facilities in the UK in the future. Continuing discussions after the meeting raised more question with regard to future activities of EBI, which are in brief summarised here: Already, EBI in its planning stage is very large and difficult to comprehensively understand for people not involved. It seems that more transparent information is needed to keep the imaging community sufficiently informed. The message has been given out that EBI can be made into a helpful overarching European body supporting bioimaging, which is tailored for the requirements of imaging infrastructure in UK research. However, at the same time a structure of this size bears the danger to become an unresponsive bureaucracy, inefficient in the use of available funding. The opinion was voiced that EBI would presumably not become an institution that has control over most of the imaging infrastructure funding in the UK, but that this was dependent on the view of the funding bodies. There was a consensus that it would be very desirable for the imaging community to profit from the present, multi-layered funding landscape that does exist in the UK and that is achieving a sufficient financial coverage of the ongoing research. However, should the UK funding bodies decide to direct large parts of their imaging-related funding through EBI, this could mean a potential threat of a decrease in bioimaging funding, in particular for smaller imaging facilities, which do not have the chance to become nodes , regional or national imaging facilities. On the other hand, the chance of getting funding for imaging facilities through EBI in addition to the funding streams available in the UK was very much greeted and rated as a potentially large enhancement. However, the question was raised where this funding eventually will come from. Further questions were raised at what level EBI funding was available, who would be eligible and to what extent general and advanced imaging technologies would be supported and disseminated successfully to the wider community. Eligibility criteria for imaging facilities that want to become EBI nodes will be defined in the preparatory phase in 2011/12, followed by an open call for facilities to bid to be nodes during 2012/13. It seems very important that the facility manager community and BioImaging UK continue the ongoing discussions, frequently update the BioImaing UK strategy/working papers and thus precisely define what these communities expect from the future operations of EBI.

The EBI website states the eligibility criteria for central facilities that want to become EBI nodes are to be defined in 2011/12 followed by an open call to bid to become nodes in 2012/13. More information can be found at [1].

Reduction of equipment costs

Unlike in the USA, there is no second hand market for refurbished, high-end imaging equipment in the UK. It was suggested to investigate this option for the future to find out whether it would be feasible and significantly reduce costs. If so, the funding bodies would need to agree to the option of refurbished imaging equipment and whether funds could be granted for second hand equipment. At the same time, system manufacturer must be willing to engage and offer their services such as complete refurbishments at reasonable rates.

Short-term support

It was suggested that small, quick response funds for short-term scientific exchange would benefit in particular smaller imaging facilities to visit other facilities, important meetings or invite relevant guest researchers to their facility for knowledge transfer.


The question was raised whether the introduction of the Shared Services Centre (SSC) by the RCUK had made any impact on dealing with the Research Councils since its introduction. Facility managers from academia felt there was no noticeable difference whereas some representatives of companies mentioned that this had facilitated their dealings with the Research Councils. However, the records of lists of equipment, which was funded by the Research Councils are being regarded as patchy and not up to date.

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