Federal Research Support Fund

What are the indirect costs of research?

The indirect costs of research are the “hidden” costs that are incurred in the support of research-related activities that cannot be easily attributed to a specific research project.

At SFU, indirect costs of research include:

  • Maintaining high quality research infrastructure through the renovation and maintenance of research facilities, upgrades to equipment, and the operating costs of research space;
  • Providing in-house technical expertise for ongoing and daily support to research facilities;
  • Acquiring research resources including library holdings and datasets;
  • Facilitating research through institutional support for the completion of grant applications and proposals, financial administration and reporting, and research planning and promotion;
  • Ensuring the requirements of regulatory bodies are met, including the Tri-Council & Canadian Council on Animal Care;
  • Managing the licensing of university technologies.

What is the Research Support Fund?

The Government of Canada introduced the Indirect Costs of Research Program (ICP) in 2003 to help offset the hidden costs of research funded by the Tri-Council (CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC).

The ICP transitioned to the Research Support Fund (RSF) effective the 2015-2016 grant year. The transition affects grant application and reporting requirements, however the overall objectives and design of the program, including the funding formula, remain unchanged.

RSF grants are awarded annually based on Tri-Council funding received by SFU in the previous three years for which data are available.  

How is the RSF allocated at SFU?

SFU received just over $8 million from the RSF program in 2015-16. Most of this funding is dedicated to supporting the management and administration of SFU's research enterprise, as well as maintaining and upgrading its research facilities (see chart, right).

Beginning in the 2011/12 fiscal year, SFU implemented a new model for the internal allocation of the grant that it receives annually from the Canadian government. It is now divided equally between the university and the initiating faculty, as is the case with overheads realized from research funded through contracts. The initiating faculties report each year on the use of these funds, so that SFU can fulfil its reporting requirements.

SFU's RSF Objectives, Indicators, and Outcomes






Support knowledge creation and exchange

Modern, safe, sustainable and well-equipped research facilities
  • Quantity and quality of research space
  • Quantity and quality of technical support


Facilitate research at undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels Ubiquitous access to research resources and tools
  • Amount and utilization of shared Library facilities and resources
  • Improvements to electronic information resources


Maintain the effective operation of SFU's research enterprise
Efficient leadership and support, including accurate and timely reporting
  • Quantity of funded research
  • Quality of research support and promotion
  • Effectiveness of information systems


Maintain the highest level of ethical and safe conduct for research
Compliance with regulatory, financial, and funding agency requirements
  • Compliance with CCAC, Tri-Council Policy Statement
  • Quantity and quality of regulatory and technical support


Mobilize research for social and economic benefit Intellectual property and technology transfer activity
  • Quantity and quality of IT/tech transfer activity


Achieve national and international leadership in research and innovation Outcomes of SFU's strategic research and innovation initiatives
  • Attraction of outstanding faculty and students
  • Growth of research funding
  • Number of research collaborations
  • Recognition of research and innovation excellence
  • Contributions to economic and social development

SFU's Affiliated Institutions

  • Providence Health Care
  • Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare in B.C. - OHSAH
  • BC Cancer Agency

What impact has the RSF had on SFU research?

The RSF contributes to SFU's ability to provide a supportive research environment through the provision of staff and services that free researchers to pursue their research programs and seek new funding opportunities. It also enables SFU to provide research facilities and other resources that help to attract and retain high-calibre researchers and graduate students. In turn, the presence of leading researchers and highly qualified personnel ensures SFU's continued participation in major, multi-institutional and international research initiatives.

Progress towards RSF objectives: Overall impacts

SFU’s strategic vision for research commits the University to becoming a world leader in knowledge mobilization, renowned for its capacity to disseminate knowledge and its ability to harness new ideas and innovations for the benefit of society. This commitment rests on a solid foundation of, and continued commitment to, fundamental research.

Over the past 10 years, SFU has transformed into one of Canada's top research-intensive universities. It is consistently ranked among Canada's top 15 research universities by every major global and national university ranking system. This remarkable trajectory has positioned the University to achieve national or international leadership in a number of research areas.

Examples of progress toward RSF objectives

Sponsored Research Income

In FY2014, when Canada’s combined university research income shrank for the first time in over a decade, SFU slightly increased its income to $103.1 million (Source: Re$earch Infosource Analysis 2015). This was followed by a 13.8 per cent increase in FY2015 to $117.4 million.

Learn more.

Grant Competitions

In FY2015, SFU maintained its competitive level of research funding from the Tri-Councils and increased its CFI/BCKDF funding and its income from foreign sources.

Learn more.

Research Output and Impact

SFU’s research spans a broad range of fundamental and applied areas, from origins of the universe and future-oriented technologies to nanoscience and macroeconomics. In 2015, SFU researchers published a combined total of 2200 journal articles, almost 28 per cent of which appeared in the world's most elite (top 10 per cent) journals.

In 2015, SFU’s research excellence was recognized by national and international ranking systems.

Learn more.

Major Research Awards

In addition to discipline-specific honours, SFU researchers have recently received several notable major awards and fellowships, including a Canada Clean50 Award, Canadian Academy of Engineering Fellowship, Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Fellowship, CUFA BC Academic of the Year Award,  Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists membership, and Sloan Research Fellowship.

Learn more.

Research Collaboration

SFU fosters local to international collaborations to advance fundamental and applied research and innovation across diverse sectors. In the past six years, SFU has collaborated with over 2100 institutions worldwide, in more than 110 countries.

Learn more.

Research Partnerships

In FY2016, SFU collaborated with 151 partners on 428 funded researched projects. This included the establishment of an ImageTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital with $3.6 million in funding from Western Economic Diversification, together with $1 million in earlier funding from CFI and support from Philips Healthcare, and the opening of the Pacific Blue Cross Health Informatics Lab in the Faculty of Applied Sciences at SFU Burnaby.

Research Centres and Institutes

SFU has established 47 research centres under the direct authority of the relevant Faculty Dean, and 27 research institutes that have a university-wide mandate or multi-university consortium.

Learn more.

Innovation and Knowledge Mobilization

In October 2015, the University launched SFU Innovates to inspire, develop, and support impact-driven innovation and entrepreneurship. Learn more.



Approximately one-tenth of SFU's main campus space is used for research activities. With the support of the RSF, SFU can maintain modern, safe facilities that enable its researchers to keep up with changes in techniques and methodologies in their fields. The state of the university's research facilities impacts SFU's ability to participate in regional, national, and international research collaborations and to attract industrial partnerships. It is also a factor in the institution's ability to attract top faculty and students and raise its research profile.

Without this support, SFU would be unable to maximize its return on external investment by maintaining the cleanliness, safety and efficiency of its research infrastructure, which are the foundations upon which research discoveries are made.

The major cost drivers in this category are the internal costs for labour (salaries and benefits) and the costs of parts and materials. The maintenance and operating costs associated with research space is about 50% higher than the average cost for the university. The RSF supports only a small portion of the university's total facilities costs.

Examples of RSF impact at SFU, Facilities

Renovation and maintenance of research facilities

With RSF support, the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology was able to meet a need identified in their latest external review for collaborative meeting space to facilitate the sharing of ideas and the forging of interdisciplinary linkages. Design and construction began in FY2015 and continued into FY2016. The new space will enable a deeper level of engagement between researchers and with internal and external stakeholders. A portion of this year's Research Support Fund was also applied towards the renovation of laboratories in the Faculty of Science. These renovations fulfilled the Faculty's commitment to two new faculty members in the areas of environmental toxicology and exercise biology. The provision of well-equipped lab space is a key component of faculty recruitment and retention.

Technical support for laboratories, offices and other facilities

A portion of the Research Support Fund is used to provide technical support to researchers and to support the salaries of staff who manage laboratories. For instance, technicians in the Faculty of Applied Sciences assist researchers with unsupported and specialized software and hardware, ranging from system procurement and configuration to the managing of licenses and warranties and troubleshooting technical issues. Technicians in the Faculty of the Arts and Social Sciences ensure that software and hardware is kept up-to-date and provide dedicated support to improve research efficiency. Such support is vital to enable researchers to carry out their research programs, and produce research papers, in a timely and effective fashion.


Support from the RSF provides SFU researchers with the tools and informational resources necessary to carry out their research programs. These include library resources, research data sets, computing and network infrastructure, and software and other digital tools. Having these resources ubiquitously accessible allows SFU to participate in the global 24/7-research environment.

The major cost driver in this category are the fees charged by external providers for these resources.

Examples of RSF impact at SFU, Resources

Library Resources

The main goal of the SFU Library is to provide access to a rapidly expanding array of resources, which are increasingly digital. These include online journals, e-books, and other digital resources. The SFU Library is also a leader in digitization initiatives, which require specialized software and tools for describing, discovering, accessing, analyzing and repurposing data sets. The RSF helps to implement and operate these collections and services, which are necessary to maintain SFU's momentum as a leading research institution with a strong national and international reputation.

Improvements to Electronic Information Resources

The RSF helps to provide data sets from the Center for Research in Security Prices and Bloomberg Research for researchers and students in the Beedie School of Business. Such tools enable SFU's faculty and students to be thought leaders in competitive research fields. Without access to such key resources, SFU's programs could be seen as of lesser quality than those of comparable institutions who are able to provide these resources.

Management and Administration

Investment in research support through the RSF is vital to maintaining the smooth operation of SFU's research enterprise. It maximizes return on external investment by freeing faculty members to focus their time and effort on research.

The major cost drivers in this category are annual step progressions, negotiated salary increases, and benefit costs. Salary costs overall increase annually even when the number of positions remains the same. The largest proportion of SFU's RSF grant for FY2016 was invested in Management and Administration.

Without this support, researchers would need to spend more of their time on management and administrative tasks, which would negatively impact their individual research output as well as SFU's overall research productivity and competitiveness.

Examples of RSF impact at SFU, Management and Administration

Financial and Audit Costs - Research Accounting

Research Accounting is responsible for the financial administration and financial reporting of research funds. Its staff provide services to the university, to the researchers and research personnel, and to the funding sponsors. Activities include: negotiating financial terms and conditions to minimize administrative costs and financial risks; providing budget control; ensuring compliance with internal policies and procedures; handling external audits; providing timely submission of billings and financial reports; following up on research account receivables and outstanding payments; and facilitating the financial administration of research projects. Research Accounting assists researchers in the timely and proper use of funds. Without such services, the proper financial controls and stewardship would be absent, potentially compromising the university's ability to meet the requirements of external funding agencies and the timeliness and accuracy of billings and financial reports.

Institutional Support for Completion of Grant Applications - SFU Major Projects Office

The SFU Major Projects Office is responsible for facilitating the development and submission of proposals for major research funding programs at provincial, national and international levels, including those offered through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Western Economic Diversification, and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Activities include: providing information on major funding opportunities, facilitating the establishment of research collaborations, and assisting with the development and submission of grant proposals including serving as a liaison between SFU researchers, senior administrators, and other University units as required. In addition, the MPO maintains institutional relationships with the granting agencies and major project offices at other Canadian universities.

We credit this support with an increase in the number and quality of major proposals submitted, having a positive impact on SFU's overall research activity and its total research income. Without such support, we could expect a decline in the success of major grant applications and a corresponding decline in SFU's overall research outputs, including publications and training of highly qualified personnel.

Read our RSF profile on the Major Projects Office.

Regulatory Requirements

SFU is in compliance with the Tri-Council Policy Statement on the Ethical Conduct for Research involving human subjects and the use of hazardous materials, as well as the policies of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). The RSF supports the salaries of staff members who work to ensure SFU's continued compliance with regulatory requirements.

The expansion of SFU's research enterprise in recent years has created a substantial increase in workload for these positions. Without such support, SFU would be unable to keep up with this increased demand, and SFU's ability to meet regulatory requirements would be compromised.

The major cost drivers in this category are annual step progressions, negotiated salary increases, and benefit costs. Salary costs overall increase annually even when the number of positions remains the same.

Examples of RSF impact at SFU, Regulatory Requirements

Creation and Support of Regulatory Bodies

SFU's Office of Research Ethics (ORE) is committed to ensuring the highest level of ethical conduct for research involving human participants. The ORE supports researchers through the ethics review process, from the preparation of a new submission to continuing review of ongoing research. The ORE educates researchers in the policies and process of research ethics and ethics review and facilitates the review process conducted by the SFU Research Ethics Board and its subcommittees. The ORE team assists the Director in administering the ethics approval process and in developing educational and research monitoring programs. A portion of the RSF covers the salaries of these support staff.

Read our RSF profile on the Office of Research Ethics.

Technical Support for Animal Care

SFU's Animal Care Services ensures that the university conducts research, testing or testing that involves animals in the most humane and ethical manner possible. Through the University Animal Care Committee, it also ensures that each research project using animals meets or exceeds the standards expressed in the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals.

A portion of SFU's RSF is applied toward the salaries of the animal care technicians and Manager. The technicians are responsible for maintaining centralized animal care facilities and promoting optimal levels of animal care. They aid all researchers at SFU who use animals for research, testing, and/or teaching. While not directly involved in research, technicians are involved in the surveillance of research animals. They are also directly responsible for the smooth functioning of the three Animal Care facilities at the Burnaby campus: the Animal Resources Centre (rodent research), the Animal Care Facility (bird research) and the Alcan Aquaculture Facility (fish research).

Without such support, animal research at SFU would be severely compromised. First, the facilities and services for the proper and humane treatment of animals in our care would not function properly, and second, it would affect the university's ability to maintain compliance with the Canadian standards for animal research.

Intellectual Property

The SFU Innovation Office provides a full set of services to support the invention process, including facilitating the creation of new partnerships with industry and commercializing promising research with the goal of creating new products, businesses and jobs that contribute to economic growth and diversification in BC and Canada.

The major cost drivers in this category are annual step progressions, negotiated salary increases, and benefit costs.

Examples of RSF impact at SFU, Intellectual Property

Sustenance of Technology Transfer Office

The RSF covered the salaries of the Director and Associate Director of the SFU Innovation (IO) Office in FY2016. These positions help SFU researchers to build effective working relationships with communities, industry, governments, NGOs and non-profits to increase the solution capability of SFU innovators. The RSF support of the SFU Innovation Office enables SFU to continue to be effective in facilitating an open innovation environment.

Read our RSF profile on the Innovation Office.