This may seem a rather un-titillating subject matter. But I cannot be alone in being utterly baffled, bamboozled and flummoxed by the way budgets are calculated and managed in research.
Some questions that come screaming to mind:
-Why do we never get the amount we actually calculated?
I discovered that institutions have hidden undisclosed fees, so as well as the % you always factor into your calculations, they cream some more off project budgets here and there, so you never get the full amount. This means, very basically, that our research budgets are always underfunded. No, I have not mistakenly asked for too little on ALL my projects – I just didn’t know about these extra hidden fees. In terms of salaries, this means you may only get a 10 month contract instead of the 12 month one you requested.
-Why do we have to spend money unnecessarily by some artificial deadline?
In all the institutions I’ve worked in there comes a time each year when the same call goes out: The spending deadline is approaching! So find stuff to spend money on – no matter how needless – otherwise we will lose the cash forever… As well as leading to ridiculous behaviour, this is inefficient and wasteful. Why can’t we have more time and spend more wisely? And anyway, where does the money go (I asked and no one knows)?
-Why is there no flexibility factored into project timing?
Hurray, your project’s been funded! So now all participants must drop everything they’ve been doing previously and start this new project that may never have been funded at all… The contracts and budgets must start spending straight away, and if you ask for any extra time (because, maybe someone had to finish-up their contract, or move from another country) a long administrative rigmarole awaits you.
-Why can we not have a capped rolling discretionary fund?
Can researchers not accumulate some small amount of cash in their name that doesn’t disappear into the money-ether at a certain date? This could help us fund small unexpected costs like an open-access paper, or flying a colleague over for a meeting. Guess what, it might make our working lives easier…
-Has this never happened before?
It seems, when dealing with finance, budgets and administration, that the world came into existence yesterday: ‘Apparently, this particular contract/ invoice has never been requested before’. We must repeatedly invent the process from the start.
Maybe it’s worse where I work (ahem, France does not exactly have a reputation for easy administrative processes). But I think these ridiculous rules that prevail within institutions impede research & science all over the world in the name of accounting. Obviously, I am all for checking that money is being spent as it should, but with the current system research is less efficient. I do think that it wouldn’t take much to simplify processes and add flexibility.
It really shouldn’t be so hard to: a) receive the money we asked for when it’s awarded; b) spend it on the things we requested it for and c) take into account that people do research, not robots (usually), so some flexibility is necessary. It’s not rocket science or brain surgery…
I am sure that other daft examples of this exist, but there may also be places where things are much better. Maybe you have suggestions we could request or campaign for to improve things? Or maybe I’m just completely naive… Either way, let me know and I’ll update the post!