Over the last 10 years, the university has invested in core facilities (CFs) which are purpose-built to house and provide access to infrastructure shared across the whole SFU community—and beyond. These facilities allow for the pooling of resources at a university scale, providing opportunities to acquire world-class equipment and to realize economies of scale in facility management.
What is an SFU Core Facility?
A university Core Facility (CF) is a shared research resource that supports a wide community of users. This shared resource may include unique physical infrastructure, accompanied by expertise or services based around that infrastructure. However, unique physical infrastructure is not a requirement - the shared resource may be focused on specialized services leveraging university talent and expertise.
A CF will have the following additional characteristics:
- The facility is well-aligned with university research priorities.
- The facility supports broad usage, exceeding what is normally expected to be managed by a single department or faculty.
- It is available to the full SFU community, as well as academics from other universities.
- Unless prevented by exceptional circumstances (e.g., privacy), it will be available to non-academic users including industry and government.
- It has an approved financial sustainability plan. This will normally include cost recovery through facility user fees, which are set at a reduced rate for academic users.
- It participates in the university CF program, including the use of common administrative services.
- It is eligible to receive direct financial support from the Vice-President Research and International (VPRI).
The Core Facility Program
University CFs are part of SFU’s Core Facility Program (CFP). The CFP defines how CFs are governed and provides common services for all of the CFs. The CFP should ensure that university CFs are aligned with SFU’s vision and SFU’s Strategic Research Plan, and that overall administrative overhead is minimized.
As shown in the diagram below, the CFP is comprised of a coordinating office, and a set of individual CFs, all reporting to the VPRI. The structure of each CF is as lightweight as possible, including only an academic leader (title could be Executive Director, Research Director, Scientific Director, etc.), a Director of Administration and any additional technical staff needed to operate any specialized infrastructure associated with that CF. The coordinating layer includes a committee of academic leaders and a committee of Directors of Administration, as well as any common staff or services which span multiple CFs. In addition to reducing duplication, this coordinating layer allows the university to provide a seamless interface to and point of entry (front door) for external users, who may engage with multiple CFs.
The CFP Research Committee is comprised of the academic leaders of all of the CFs. Through their chair, this group provides scientific guidance and infrastructure investment recommendations to the VPRI. Normally, the committee will nominate a chair to the VPRI, who will then appoint that person to serve for a fixed term. Alternatively, the VPRI reserves the right to bring in an outside chair, someone who is not currently the academic leader of an existing CF.
The CFP Administrative Committee is comprised of the administrative directors of all of the CFs. This committee documents and exchanges best practice in facility operation, and identifies strategic opportunities that may impact more than one CF. This committee will be chaired by the Executive Director, Research Operations (EDRO). As chair of the operations committee, the EDRO will be responsible for aggregating reporting metrics and indicators and providing regular updates (at least on an annual basis) on the status of the CFP to the VPRI.
The VPRI will have a CFP advisory committee which will include representation from experts drawn from inside and outside the university. The committee will meet at least annually to review the state of the CFP in fulfilling its mandate, and to advise the VPRI on future directions for the program. The chairs of the CFP Research and Administrative Committees will serve as ex-officio members of this committee.
Each individual CF should have a CF advisory committee comprised of stakeholders internal and external to the SFU community. Administrative support for these committees is provided by the CFP coordinating office.
Sharing Between CFs, Distributed CFs
It is possible that two distinct CFs share physical infrastructure or staff. For example, 1 technician may maintain similar equipment across several CFs. It is also possible to define a distributed CF, managing infrastructure and staff across several separate physical locations to gain operational efficiency. It is part of the role of the CFP coordinating office and related committees to identify opportunities for such synergies.
Applying to Become a CF
Existing or proposed university research facilities may wish to be designated as CF in order to access support from CFP common services or from the office of the VPRI. Designation of CF status is at the sole discretion of the VPRI. However, recommendations from the Research and Administration Committees will inform the VPRI decision. Applications to become a CF should be submitted to the CFP Administrative Committee after consultation with the CFP Research Committee and the VPRI.
Decommissioning a CF
As priorities change, new CFs may be created and existing CFs may be decommissioned. As part of the CFP, each CF will undergo regular review by the CFP coordinating office, that will make a recommendation to the VPRI on the viability of each CF. The VPRI will decide whether a CF will maintain its status based on the recommendation of the CFP, available resources, and VPRI strategic priorities.
Each university CF must have an approved sustainability plan, outlining a 3-5 year revenue generating or cost recovery financial model based on diverse sources. CFs are typically sustained through some combination of:
- Equipment operating grants (e.g., CFI IOF)
- Personnel/operations grants (e.g., CFI MSI, tri-council grants)
- User fees
- University support
Where user fees are charged, the facility will normally set both an academic and external rate. All academic users should be treated equally, with no special rate available for the faculty members directly involved in CF management.
Every effort should be made to minimize required university support for the portfolio of CFs participating in the CFP. The university recognizes that new CFs may take some time to develop a client base sufficient to sustain the facility through user fees. The new CF may therefore be subsidized while in start-up mode, with subsidies drawn from within the CFP portfolio or from the university. For new CFs, the plan for transition from start-up to sustainable operations should normally be documented in the approved sustainability plan.