What is the real cost of your research?

It’s hard to say how much a research project is really going to cost, but there are some inelastic expenses that can be counted on and factored in automatically to improve the accuracy and reliability of your costings.

“How much does research cost?” This is a deceptively simple question.

Research is how we create new knowledge, so we cannot always predict where such an exploratory undertaking may lead, or what difficulties may be encountered. Nevertheless, research projects’ costs must also be justified long before their outcomes can be known because they vie against one another for the scarce resources of funding bodies.

Add to this that specific funding arrangements are not made equal, or even similar. Funding bodies like the ARC have maximum personnel costs built into their grants each year, and likewise researchers need to read any funding agencies’ rules on using grant funding for things like overheads or the installation of specific equipment.

Amid this tension and uncertainty, there’s also this factor: academics are typically given perilously little formal training in how to develop their proposed budgets. Their professional roles are reliant on the twin pillars of research activities and teaching. Any direction on budgeting comes initially from supervisors, university documentation, or less formal mentorship arrangements.

It is unsurprising, then, that there are some costs that are little considered by academic budgeters, particularly early in their careers. These include factors like superannuation for personnel, local (rather than long-distance) transport, invisible overheads like power and maintenance, and insurance or legal services.

The importance of accurate and reliable costing and pricing cannot be understated. A researcher who asks too much will be rejected by critical assessors of their application, who will be conscious of the potential waste of public or charitable funding. But a researcher who asks too little may well in fact receive their grant—and then they will be setting themselves up for a gut-wrenching conversation with the finance office about trimming down their project scope to fit the grant with which they’ve been supplied. In both cases, the researcher and the institution lose.

However, many costs that aren’t immediately obvious can still be standardised and pre-filled via technology solutions. It isn’t just a matter of convenience, either: it ensures a higher standard of accuracy and reliability, and it supports research excellence in the long-term.

Using these solutions, prices can be defined by the finance office, and then propagated across the relevant applications, providing the assurance of correct pricing for standard line items, with remarkably little trouble to either the researcher or the administrators.

For more information about ResearchMaster’s costing and pricing tool, developed specifically for the Australian and New Zealand research landscape, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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