For each type of research infrastructure, an assessment procedure has been stipulated.
Medium-sized research infrastructure (EUR 150,000-1,500,000)
Only the Flemish universities and university colleges can submit funding proposals for medium-sized research infrastructure. Each association (a structured network of a university and university colleges) has drawing rights on the total available sum. Its share is determined by a formula based, among others, on its past performance in research and valorisation (e.g. its share in Flanders’ publication output, the number of spin-offs and patents). The selection of proposals is based on a call each association organises. It draws up an indicative list with a prioritisation of its funding proposals and forwards it to the Hercules Foundation.
The Hercules foundation established an assessment panel. Beside at least two representatives of the industrial sector, this panel is composed of experts from the associations. The Hercules Regulation stipulates also a minimum representation of the university colleges.
This panel gives a recommendation concerning the proposals submitted by the associations on the indicative lists.
Each association is given the opportunity to submit an adapted proposal based on the recommendations by the assessment panel.
However, before decision making, the assessment panel organises a consultation among the five associations to explore possibilities for cooperation. Third parties (e.g. research institutes or private companies) can also be included in this consultation. Given Flanders’ fragmented higher education landscape, this procedure stimulates a reflection on the optimal use of the limited resources available and on networking among research groups.
Based on these evaluations, the Hercules Foundation’s Board of Directors decides on the final allocation of funds within every association.
Large-scale research infrastructure (more than EUR 1,500,000)
The acquisition and use of large-scale research infrastructure in many cases surpasses the capabilities of individual higher education and research institutions. Therefore, strategic cooperation is a must in this field. For this category, the Hercules Foundation periodically publishes an open call for proposals. Not only the universities and the university colleges can submit proposals, but also three Flemish postgraduate institutions, the Vlerick Ghent Leuven Management School, the University of Antwerp Management school and the Prince Leopold Institute for Tropical Medicine (“Instituut voor Tropische Geneeskunde”(ITG)), and the four aforementioned strategic research institutes.
The funding proposals undergo a double assessment. A Commission called Hercules Science, composed mainly of foreign experts, assesses their scientific merit. Subsequently, another Commission, called Hercules Invest evaluates those proposals being ranked by the Hercules Science Commission as excellent from a budgetary-technical perspective in order to determine if the proposals are sufficiently realistic. Finally, based on the recommendations of both the Hercules Science Commission and Hercules Invest Commission, the Hercules Foundation’s Board of Directors decides which proposals will be honoured.
The Hercules Science Commission is composed of at least six effective and six substitute members who are internationally recognised experts in their research field and at the same time have a broad overview of the problems and challenges linked to the funding of research infrastructure. They are appointed for six-year periods by the Flemish Minister of Science and Technology on proposal of the governing body of the Hercules Foundation. The effective and substitute members must represent different scientific disciplines, and at least one of the effective and one of the substitute members must have an industrial background. At most one third of the effective and substitute members live and work in Belgium at the moment of the Commission’s composition. The members are remunerated for their work.
It is the task of the Hercules Science Commission to assess the scientific quality of the submitted proposals for large-scale research infrastructure and to rank the excellent ones. To make its assessment, the Commission has to take the following criteria into consideration:
- the scientific quality and relevance of the research programme that will be executed using the research infrastructure;
- the importance of the research infrastructure for the research in the concerned scientific discipline;
- the innovative character of the research programme that will be carried out using the research infrastructure;
- the extent to which the research infrastructure, as a logistical interchange, can generate new projects;
- the technologically innovative character of the research infrastructure;
- in case the research infrastructure has to be constructed, the technical viability of the research infrastructure;
- the quality and the competence of the concerned research group(s), the scientific position of the concerned research group(s) in an international context and the involvement in the policy of international research infrastructures;
- the extent to which the proposal can be fitted into the strategic research policy of the concerned institution or institutions;
- the extent to which the investment in the research infrastructure contributes to the strengthening of the Flemish or regional position in the concerned research field;
- the extent to which the proposal is in line with both national and foreign initiatives and infrastructures in the concerned research field and;
- the accessibility of the research infrastructure for researchers from outside the host institution and the quality of the access scheme.
For each proposal, at least three international peers active in the relevant (sub)field(s) will be consulted on the scientific quality of the proposal via a written procedure. In the selection process of these peers, the active participation of the members of the Hercules Science Commission will be sought. This Commission will also decide on the short list of peers who will be consulted.
In a first round, taking the reference reports into account, the Hercules Science Commission will select those proposals for which an interview with the applicants will be organised. After these interviews and, based on all the available information, the Commission will rank the proposals and give advice on those to be funded.
The Hercules Invest Commission investigates the investment plans of those proposals deemed to have met the standard of excellence by the Hercules Science Commission in order to assess whether the investment plans are sufficiently realistic and objective.
The investment plans will therefore include at least the following elements:
- a description of the intended investment;
- a description of the way in which the infrastructure will be achieved;
- a utilisation plan;
- a description of the quality of the infrastructure in which the research infrastructure will be housed;
- an estimate of the financial, personal and material costs, and;
- a definitive budget.
The Hercules Invest Commission also investigates whether any needs or opportunities exist other than those identified in the application, in the areas of inter-institutional or inter-association cooperation, or cooperation with domestic or foreign research centres, scientific associations, or companies.
On the basis of these two assessments, the Hercules Invest Commission formulates a recommendation, which is added to the Hercules Science Commission’s recommendations. This recommendation is motivated in an explicit, substantial and written manner.
The Hercules Foundation’s Board of Directors takes the final decision on the proposals to be funded. This decision is based on the advice of both the Hercules Science Commission and the Hercules Invest Commission. However, it cannot change the Hercules Science Commission’s ranking. It can only accept or reject the ranked list. When it comes to the recommendations of the Hercules Invest Commission, the governing body has three options. Either (a) it rejects the recommendations or (b) it accepts them (partially) and turns them (partially) into funding conditions or (c) it accepts them (partially) and asks the researchers to amend their funding proposal on the basis of these recommendations. Thus, the Hercules Science Commission plays a pivotal role in the selection procedure for large-scale research infrastructure.