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  1. Research grant
  2. Research contract
  3. Donations
  4. Services contracts – When you are a service provider
  5. Services contracts – When a third party is the service provider

Before developing a research proposal for an external funding opportunity, principle investigators must understand whether they are submitting an application for a grant or a contract; whether they are eligible to apply for the funds; whether the researcher or the institution is required to make the final submission; and to understand the university's internal policies and processes with regards to sponsored research.

Researchers are strongly advised to allow sufficient time for proper diligence at each level of the application.

There are two types of sponsored research awards: research grant and research contract. The difference between a contract and a grant relates to the legal concept of default and whether the researcher is legally bound to produce results.


Research grant

As noted in SFU Research Policy R 10.01, a Research Grant refers to funds that are awarded to the recipient to enable the performance of self-directed research, where there is no contractual obligation for performance. There may be terms and deliverables such as reporting requirements, and payment schedules, but no specified requirements for performance.

Research funds are granted to a researcher by a sponsor with an expectation that the task at hand can be accomplished. This is not a requirement; however, an accomplished task may lead to more grant funding. If the task is not accomplished, there are likely no ramifications to the researcher or the institution.

Research contract

As noted in SFU Research Policy R 10.01, a Research Contract is a legally binding agreement for academic research under a specified principal investigator’s direction where promises to deliver results are exchanged for funding. Contracting agencies can be private industry, government agencies or non-profit organizations.

Please note that some agreements or contracts do not provide funding, rather they facilitate research in other ways. 

The following table describes the difference between a grant and a contract.

A simple award letter Legally binding agreement
No agreement, promises Agreements, defined scope, obligations and responsibility
No confidentiality restrictions Requirement to sign confidentiality agreement, research agreement
Ownership of any intellectual property resides with the researcher Foreground intellectual property terms and ownership are clearly defined
Unrestricted rights to publish Restrictions on publication rights
No termination provisions Termination provisions
Flexible time frame Detailed work schedule
Few deliverables Deliverables, reporting and timelines
Payment in advance generally lump-sum payments Payment may be made in arrears and tied to milestones and deliverables.
The project/budget can be changed without notice to sponsor Changes to scope of work/budget requires consent of sponsor



Researchers may receive donations or awards that are given without any limitation for use through donation. These funds are not administered through Research Services. Please contact Advancement or Faculty Relations for more information regarding these funds.

However, for donations that will be used for research, please contact Research Services ( to make sure account setup is not delayed. Because it is not always clear whether something falls under “donation” or “research”, Research Services coordinates with Advancement to make sure that funds are administered correctly.

Services contracts – When a researcher is a service provider

A Research Contract is to be contrasted with a Research Service Contract, Analytical Services Contract, or Technical Services Contract for the routine use of specialized research equipment or facilities at SFU to provide measurement, composition, fabrication and related expertise to a purchaser of those services. In this case, a researcher is functioning as a service provider to an outside partner. Please contact Research Services ( to set up such contracts if:

  • new knowledge generation is expected in the process,
  • there are intellectual property implications,
  • there are certification requirements, 
  • human subject participation is involved, or
  • other non-routine service elements are involved.

Resource: Types of Agreement

Services contracts – When a third party is the service provider

Researchers may wish to contract a third-party service provider to perform testing for your research project. In this case, please contact SFU Procurement to help with setting up a service contract. Please note services for more than $50,000 CAD have to be secured through a bidding process from at least three quotes.

Please contact Research Services ( if your third party service provider will participate in generating new knowledge, if there are intellectual property implications or if there are certification requirements.

Resource: Types of Agreement