Frequently Asked Questions
Under Integrating Activities, what is the difference between trans-national access and virtual access? Which rules apply for claiming costs for these?
Posted by Georgia Tzenou on 14 March 2014 10:51 AM
For the definition of the two access categories, please refer to the section “Specific features for research infrastructures, D. Integrating Activities, (ii) Trans-national and/or virtual access activities” on pp. 56-57 of the “European research infrastructures” part of the Work Programme 2014-2015.|
Virtual Access means “access to resources needed for research through communication networks without selecting or even identifying the researchers to whom access to resources is provided. Examples of virtual access activities are databases available via Internet, or data deposition services. Only virtual services widely used by the community of European researchers will be supported, therefore the services offered under a project shall be periodically assessed by an external board”. As these services are already freely available, there is no need for a competitive selection of users and therefore no need to set up a selection panel. There is no need to identify users either. However, user identification may still be necessary as part of virtual access when this is subject to specific requirements such as registration, authentication and/or authorisation of users (e.g. for access to sensitive data). Clearly there is no need for users to visit the infrastructure to get access and no need to define a unit of access. The access provider will still need to publicise widely the access offered and set up an external board to periodically assess the services offered, as only virtual services widely used by the community of European researchers will be supported. The assessment report must be provided to the EC together with statistics on the access offered during the project, e.g. quantity, geographical distribution of users and, when possible, information/statistics on scientific outcomes acknowledging the use of the infrastructure (publications, patents, etc.).
Trans-national Access means “To provide 'free of charge' trans-national access to researchers or research teams including from industry to one or more infrastructures among those operated by participants. These access activities should be implemented in a coordinated way such as to improve the overall services available to the research community. Access may be made available to external users, either in person ('hands-on') or through the provision of remote scientific services, such as the provision of reference materials or samples, the performance of sample analysis or sample deposition. … The selection of researchers or research teams shall be carried out through an independent peer-review evaluation of their research projects.” (pp. 56-57 of the “European research infrastructures” part of the Work Programme 2014-2015.)
Note therefore that access provided through communication networks is not automatically virtual access: if such access requires a competitive selection of the users to be served, it is not “virtual access” but “remote trans-national access”. An example of this would be access to a high-performance computer, where the computing cycles are not unlimited and you need to allocate them competitively. Other cases could include services that need project-specific preparatory work (e.g. anonymisation) to enable access to resources via internet. Remote trans-national access requires the definition of a unit of access, the set-up of a selection panel for the selection of users and all the other obligations specified in the Grant Agreement for trans-national access.
The funding rules are laid down in Article 16 of the Model Grant Agreement5. Additional information will be contained in the Annotated Model Grant Agreement6 (annotations on Article 16 are under preparation).
Note that there have been important changes to the funding rules for trans-national access compared to FP7: “Access costs can be supported through the reimbursement of the eligible costs specifically incurred for providing access to the research teams selected for support under the project, or on the basis of unit costs calculated according to the methodology indicated in the Commission Decision C(2013)8199. In the latter case the access costs will be calculated multiplying the unit cost by the quantity of access provided under the grant. The cost of the unit of access to the infrastructure, the unit cost, shall then be indicated in the proposal. A combination of the two methods mentioned above will also be possible.” (footnote 45 on p. 57 of the “European research infrastructures” part of the Work Programme 2014-2015). An extract of the Commission Decision on the use of Unit costs for trans-national access is now available on the Participant Portal.
Note also that “a unit of access to the infrastructure shall be identified and precisely defined in the Grant Agreement” to satisfy the reporting requirements (p. 57 of the “European research infrastructures” part of the Work Programme 2014-2015) even if trans-national access costs are to be reimbursed exclusively as direct costs.