So public money is tight (but doesn’t have to be if you are a believer in Modern Monetary Theory) and in an ever-changing world funding bodies and individuals are looking for new ways to get the cash to the right people.

JISC Elevator

Recently JISC piloted the JISC Elevator which is a platform for people to pitch their ideas to the community which are then voted on, the best being selected by JISC for funding of up to £10k.

The combination of crowd sourcing and small agile projects enables experimentation with new ideas and technology that appeal to a large group of people while keeping costs and risks low.

In total 26 ideas were submitted to the Elevator, 20 getting enough votes for funding consideration (the Elevator team already recognise the vote target was too low. It was a pilot). Personally I think the Elevator model is a great idea and with some tweaking is potentially a great way for the community to not only help project proposers refine their ideas but also provide a filter to help the best ideas surface to the top.

The model is however does have some potential weaknesses. The main one for me is the ‘investment’ from project supporters is very low. It’s like playing poker for matches, you end up with a lot of bluffing because at the end of the day you’re not going to lose any money. That’s not to say Elevator project backers are making no investment. I’m sure factors like personal reputation form part of a psychological investment in an idea.

As I also mention in the comments of Joss Winn’s The cost of developing a good idea post I think the Elevator model would be great for funding students to investigate and develop ideas that will use technology to improve education and research (funding students was one of the original Elevator use cases, so it’s not like it hasn’t been considered. I would however like to see a dedicated ‘JISC Student Elevator’).

Kickstarting ideas

An alternative community approach might be to crowd fund projects. An interesting model I recently came across thanks to Mike Coulter is

Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects.

We believe that:

  • A good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide.
  • A large group of people can be a tremendous source of money and encouragement.

Kickstarter is powered by a unique all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully-funded or no money changes hands.

The idea is people create project proposals on the Kickstarter site with similar JISC Elevator type video pitches. Projects create a funding target and deadline. People can then financially contribute amounts based on a project defined payment spine. For example $25 might get you a copy of the final product where as $500 might get you a copy plus a credit or backlink.

Minutes after being introduced to Kickstarter I saw this tweet from Jim Groom (University of Mary Washington)

DS106 KickstarterIf you read the post linked to in the tweet you'll see that Jim and his UMW colleague Tim Owens have created a kickstarter project to support the infrastructure behind the MAOC* DS106 Digital Storytelling. Here's also a follow-up where Jim continues the engagement with the community to see how they should spend the money. Currently #ds106 has raised almost $12k from 144 backers and it still has 6 days left for more funding to come in.

* MAOC = Massively Awesome Open Community

Note: Before rushing off to kickstart your own project it’s worth noting that you need to “Be a permanent US resident and at least 18 years of age with a Social Security Number (or EIN), a US bank account, US address, US state-issued ID (driver’s license), and major US credit or debit card.” – so if I was going down this route I’d be looking for an American project sponsor/partner. It’s worth checking the Starting a Project FAQs.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also has some coverage of what Tim/Jim are doing which includes these examples of other educational projects funded through kickstarter:

Given my current role the OER for Typography project is particularly interesting especially as the question of  open education sustainability gets louder and funding for even the headliners like MIT’s OpenCourseWare apparently gets tight. The comments in the Chronicle article also highlight the unease within the sector around funding sources and the general cost of education.

My opinion is given the nature of projects like DS106 it’s entirely fitting that not only is the community contributing to rich environment of learning, but those who can are also supporting the infrastructure it’s based on. I think it might also be an interesting way for students to directly fund an idea they have or do something with the institution as a recognised mentor. So in the right instances open education funding by the people for the people has to be a good thing, right?

This press release arrived landed in my inbox and looks like a good deal:

If you use software in your research and you have a good understanding of what’s happening in your field (and an idea about what will be happening soon) then the Software Sustainability Institute want to hear from you. The institute will pay researchers from any discipline up to £3000 a year to attend conferences and report on the latest developments in their field.

Interested? Visit to find out how to apply.

Closing date: 8 August 2011

The Software Sustainability Institute is funded by the research councils to help researchers use and develop software for their research. To better understand the fields that most need our help, the institute are setting up a network of Agents. Working as an Agent, you will receive travelling expenses in return for a short report about the conference you attended, the people you met and your views on the topics that look most promising in the future.

The benefits:

  • Up to £3000 a year to attend the conferences and events that you want to attend
  • Your advocacy will ensure that your field benefits from the best support for software development
  • Add world-leading researchers to your professional network
  • Free attendance at training events for new tools and technologies
  • If you develop code, improve your knowledge of effective techniques for developing sustainable software
  • A great addition to your CV

You don’t have to be a professor or a Principal Investigator. We are looking for UK-based researchers with a good knowledge of their field, who are keen to travel and to meet new people, and have experience of national and international collaborations. We are looking for applicants from all disciplines and especially from the fields that have been flagged as strategically important to UK research: the ageing population, environment and climate change, the digital economy, energy and food security.

After a three-month trial period, Agents will be recruited for an initial term of one year, which is renewable each year. We expect to recruit around ten Agents every year.

By becoming an SSI Agent, you will attend more of the conferences that you want to attend, meet influential researchers from across all disciplines and ensure that your field receives the best support for software development. If you’re interested, or you’d like to nominate someone, please visit If you would like more information, email [email protected].


JISC recently announced the funding call for Grant 04/08: Learning and teaching innovation (LTIG). These are small up to £50k one year projects giving institutions the opportunity to explore projects to support teaching and learning at the more innovative/high risk end of the spectrum. This is the 6th call for this particular type of funding and the lighter weight application process potentially makes it more appealing for those who have not previously applied for external project funding before.

I’ve helped to evaluate bids for round 5 of this programme and a variation of the call for Celtic FE colleges called SWaNi. This has given me some useful insight into the evaluation process and thought you’d all might like some insider tips. There is lots of general guidance and advice on writing bids, for this post everything I suggest is specifically targeted at your LTIG proposal.

For this post I’m also going to assume you’ve got some of the basics covered like reading the Call for initial proposals doc and checking your institution is eligible to bid. In Scotland this is made a little easier because ANY COLLEGE or university funded by the SFC can apply for funds. I highlight colleges because whilst this is a competitive call (last 3 calls have had 67/68 proposals funding 5 projects), I’m sure you can use the FE angle to your benefit, presenting JISC with an opportunity to fund innovation in a sector arguably usually overlooked.

So to start with I’m going to highlight some general philosophies I think you should have in mind in preparing your bid before then looking at each of the main sections of the Annex D – Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants Proposal Template.


JISC supports unrestricted access to the published output of publicly-funded research and wishes to encourage open access to research outputs to ensure that the fruits of UK research are made more widely available - LTIG6grant.doc Para B17

I would suggest that you shouldn't see openness as a burden, but an opportunity to strengthen your bid. The are a number of ways you can do this and resulting benefits:

  • Open Bid Writing. Joss Winn at University of Lincoln is a strong advocate of open bid writing. Putting together your bid in an open domain is an opportunity to gather evidence of a need for you project, it’s also an opportunity crowdsource content for your bid
  • Making your project sustainable. Creating an open project increases the opportunity for sustainability beyond the funding period. For example, if you are developing any software tools building a community around their development from the very beginning increases the chance of greater adoption and continued development. If you are doing any software development contact JISC OSS Watch for advice before you submit your bid. There feedback can be used to strengthen your proposal.


proposals will be expected to demonstrate: that they have a potential to be a benefit to the whole JISC community [and] the potential to be scalable and replicable - LTIG6grant.doc Para 14

Often in unsuccessful LTIG proposals there is a tendency to focus purely on the local benefits, or solely be carried out within institutional walls. More so than ever projects need to be explicitly linked to the bigger picture and address real world needs. So instead of ‘we will be addressing the retention on this particular course after students identified it as a problem in a small scale survey’ you should use ‘the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) (2008) Outcomes from Institutional Audit Progression and Completion Statistics. Second series. Sharing good practice. identified that …’.

The other thing to consider is interoperability and standards. JISC are more likely to shy away from a project which is deeply entrenched in bespoke institutional and systems not reusable by others.

Something to bear in mind is there is practically a standard for everything. If you are in doubt contact JISC CETIS, whose middle name is ‘interoperability’ and again if you contact them mention this in your proposal (if I read anything with ePortfolios it has to mention LEAP2A, for course information XCRI).

Dissemination/community engagement

The institution and its partners must commit to disseminating and sharing learning from the project throughout the community. LTIG6grant.doc Para B26

Most of the proposals I see include something about a website for dissemination, occasionally ‘a blog will be updated’. The danger with statements like these is they get lost as all the other bids are doing exactly the same thing. I’d include a strategy for making this more two-way. For example, as part of the JISC funded enhancement of the Twapper Keeper service several existing blogs were used to gather user ideas (e.g. here and here). The value of face-to-face shouldn’t also be overlooked. For the EVAF4ALL project they arranged for a meeting of ‘experts’ to come together and share ideas at a project start-up meeting (an idea might be to piggyback any special interest group meetings, HEA or RSC networks). Whilst mentioning dissemination it’s worth noting you should avoid end loading.

Student voice

If you do anything student facing make sure students are at the centre of the process. Holding a couple of student focus groups is no longer enough, you need to incorporate their expertise and knowledge into your project. My favourite quote to illustrate this is from Mayes (2007) referencing Etinne Wenger work:

Wenger describes how radical doctors are trying to describe a new paradigm for the doctor-patient relationship, where a consultation is re-conceptualised as a dialogue between two experts – one, the doctor, being expert in the generic medical science, while the other, the patient, is expert in his or her own case – medical and lifestyle history, symptoms etc. Both kinds of expertise are necessary for a successful diagnosis and agreed treatment regime and should be arrived at through a dialogue between equals – a horizontal relationship in which responsibility for outcomes is shared – Mayes (2007)

[Remember IMDB, Facebook and many other products were developed by students]

Bidding Template Breakdown

So with these general project philosophies in mind on to the bidding template. When writing your bid is keep looking at the evaluation criteria as laid out in LTIG6grant.doc Para 20. You must also adhere to the word limits, or your bid will be immediately discounted.

10. What is the issue, problem or user need that your proposed project is addressing?

A good place to start looking for evidence is the HEA EvidenceNet, which is “the place to come to find current evidence relating to teaching and learning in higher education”. As well as their main site it’s worth browsing the EvidenceNetWiki which is a useful way to identify some of the key references on most of educations biggest problems (assessment/feedback, 1st year experience, retention/widening participation). For general context Horizon Reports might also be a good source – here’s Horizon Report 2011

11. How does the proposed project address the issue described above?

Your essentially building an argument for funding your proposal. Section 10 was ‘what’ and this is ‘how’. You may want to break your ‘how’ into project phases. You definitely want to cover “the potential for sustainability of the work beyond the funded period”, as this is becoming a priority for JISC work. Something else to consider is ‘is the idea appropriate’.

12. What makes the proposed project innovative? Give references to any applicable previous research/work in this area and explain how your project would add or build on this.

The biggest failing I regularly see in this section is the failure to reference any prior work in your chosen area. In particular you want to see if there are any previous JISC projects on your chosen area. Identification of overlap is not a weakness but an opportunity to highlight how your project is different, why your project should be funded to fill the missing gap.

The best ways to find out what JISC has previously funded are Google ‘JISC funded with your project idea’. Alternatively use the CETIS PROD database to search for existing projects.

Obviously JISC aren’t the only project funders so you should reference other work where necessary (for example anything with mobile probably has some overlap with MoLeNET. Whilst I’m on mobile technology one of my pet hates is platform specific mobile apps. If you are doing something just for iPhone/iPad you’d better have a watertight argument for its use).

Edit: I should have also highlighted that anyone who works for JISC (in the Services, Programme support, RSCs) generally has a good overview of what is going on in the sector both nationally and internationally. Running your idea past one of us before submission is a good opportunity to find out if your idea really is innovative and areas where it overlaps with other projects.

13. What benefit will the outputs of your project be for other HE or FE institutions (outside of your institution)? Will they be able to use them, and why might they want to?

This is a new section to the bidding template. Often one of the criticisms I hear about JISC funded work is the wider impact on the sector. This is perhaps a bigger problem for the smaller projects which have tighter deadlines and smaller budgets. This is where the philosophy of an open and engaging project can be used to your benefit. If you have already generated interest in your idea and got some feedback this can be used to illustrate the benefit and demand of your project. You might want to consider the cost benefit here. We’re in the era of putting hard values on savings, so if your project is about retention what are the cost benefits for a student continuing their studies for the institution and even society.

14. Give brief details of the project timescale, project team (including how much time each member will be spending on the project), key work packages and outputs

An example I regularly use to illustrate one way to layout this section is the University of Strathclyde’s PEER Project submission, in particular the way it maps a timeline to workpackages, objectives and outputs. If your word count permits I would use it to go into more detail about your outputs (expected size, format, which Creative Commons license you’ll be using, where they will be put). If producing reports/documents you might want say whether drafts will be available for comment/contributions (various ways you could do this from making a public Google Doc or maybe

One of the evaluation criteria is “does the proposal suggest that it has the full support from the institution(s) involved” . For the initial stage of proposals you don’t need to, nor should you, submit a letter of support. I think it’s hard to fulfil this criteria within the bidding template so at the end of this section I would include a statement like “This proposal has been approved for submission by {Insert name of the person who has approved it}, {Insert job title} (and perhaps a contact email)”.

Budget Information

JISC are a bit coy when it comes to exactly how much your institutional contribution should be. The figure usually mumbled between markers is 30%. Remember that:

The proposal must not include the development or purchase of learning material/learning content, … software, licences and equipment purchase …, it would be acceptable to include this as part of an institution’s contribution  LTIG6grant.doc Para 8

On the budget form I’d use the ‘Details’ column for ‘Institutional Contribution’ to indicate any expenditure which falls in this category. I’d also use the details column to breakdown your entered amounts so that the markers can see if the project is value for money.


What were the most common reasons that bids were rejected during previous rounds of Learning & Teaching Innovation Grants? – from Guidance to Bidders

  • The proposed work duplicated existing work (including JISC funded work) and/or did not show any awareness of existing work in the same area;
  • Linked to the above, the proposal did not demonstrate clearly that it was innovative; the proposal did not make it clear that proposed outputs would be of interest, transferable or reusable for other institutions, groups or subject areas;
  • The proposal was not eligible – for example it would use JISC funding to buy hardware or software, to develop or purchase learning materials;
  • The proposal was for the development of a tool and there was no evidence of a demand from the wider community;
  • The proposal was not supported by an institutional financial contribution commensurate with the benefit of the proposed work to the institution;
  • Proposals involving the development of a tool did not adhere to standard JISC expectations (free release to the JISC community, use of appropriate web standards, support for interoperability and transferability);
  • Proposals centred on the use of new technology or online resources and tools without any consideration of pedagogical need or accessibility issues.

Bid documents

Final, finally

Even if you are not supported by your local RSC (depending on where you are in the UK we have limited support for HEIs, but do support HE in FE), I’d still get in touch before you submit your proposal because we are always looks for good examples to shout about from our own patch.

Update: Rob and Lis's comments reminded me that I should have thanked Sheila MacNeil at JISC CETIS and the LTIG Porgramme Manager Heather Price for input on this post (CETIS providing interoperability/standards information and Heather highlight some useful bit and pieces including the details of the previously funded LTIG projects).

imageNUS Scotland have published a report researching the student financial support system.  The Still in the Red report surveyed over 7,400 Scottish further and higher education students exploring the effectiveness and impact of student finances. Headline findings from the report include:

  • 61% of students worry frequently or all of the time about finances
  • 62% said that not receiving enough money was having a negative impact on their studies
  • 50% had been forced to access commercial credit (credit cards and the like) to get by
  • 68% were working more than the Cubie-recommended 10 hours per week with 47% of these said that combining work with study was having a negative impact on their studies
  • 36% considered dropping out due to financial worries, with 89% of these saying “not having enough financial support” was a key reason for considering this

The report breaks down findings highlighting issues for: further education; higher education; postgraduate students; student parents; part-time students; and mature students.

The report highlights the following student views of FE support:


  • Students value face‑to‑face advice and local support from college bursary officers
  • Students are confident their courses will improve their prospects
  • EMA funding provides the poorest young students with a guaranteed sum on a regular basis



  • The discretionary system for college bursaries allows inequalities between
  • The possibility of funding being reduced or withdrawn during studies is causing anxiety and stress to students, which is impacting negatively on their studies
  • Actual reduction and withdrawal of funding is creating further student hardship
  • Requiring high levels of attendance from students as a prerequisite for receipt of funding fails to take into account the range of living situations of today’s students and may disadvantage some of the most vulnerable students
  • Differences between FE and HE funding systems may be preventing some students from progressing from one stage to the next

Click here to read the full NUS Scotland press release and download the report

1 Comment

This post is mainly for staff at FE colleges in the Scotland North & East region

As part of JISC’s Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants a call has been published just for FE colleges in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (See Grant 10/10: Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants: SWaNI FE). The deadline for submissions is 9th November 2010. With these grants:

JISC wishes to fund projects of up to one year that fit with the vision, outcomes and principles of the JISC e-Learning programme and support innovative approaches to learning and teaching.

There are a couple of points highlighted by my colleague Lis Parcell at RSC Wales worth remembering:

  • this call is very unusual in being ring fenced for FE in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: it’s a great opportunity!
  • that there should be a pedagogic justification for a project: technological innovation needs to be driven by institutional need and also be capable of making an impact on the sector as a whole.
  • there have been five earlier rounds of these grants, and it would be useful to look at some of the successful projects
  • Learning and Teaching Innovation Grant calls are unusual in having a two-stage bidding process, so you can ‘test the water’ with a proposal without going to the extent of writing a full bid straight off

If you are interested in submitting a proposal there are a number of ways our RSC (and the wider JISC Services family) can help. In terms of resources as well as the recording of the online townhall meeting and resulting FAQ document you might find this interview with Kevin Brace and associated resources on funding useful.

Our RSC can also help in your bid proposal in a number of other ways including:

  • reviewing a draft proposal
  • highlighting existing projects/research related to your bid
  • sitting on your project steering groups
  • incorporated into your proposals dissemination plan

For any advice please contact us.

I’m sure you have lots of ideas for projects and it is always best to apply for funding for something you were going to do anyway but if you need some ideas you could:



JISC LogoThe Higher Education Academy and JISC have announced a £5.7 million project, funded by HEFCE, piloting the opening up of education resources from higher education institutions to the world. Significant work has already been done to make digital resources widely available by JISC Services, the Higher Education Academy and individual institutions.

Higher Education Academy LogoDr John Selby, Director of Education and Participation at HEFCE says, “This new initiative will test whether this can be done much more generally across higher education. If the pilots are successful, we will have demonstrated that we could significantly expand the open availability and use of free, high-quality online educational content in the UK and around the world.” 

The projects will be formally launched in April 2009, invitations to tenders will be issued from both the Higher Education Academy and JISC in early December 2008. Click here for the press release from JISC