The joint Research Councils dipstick testing provides for an annual programme of visits to award holding bodies (mainly universities) to assess the process, procedures and controls in place around the administration of research funds.
The joint programme has been running since 1997 and enables Research Council chief executives to comply with their responsibilities for ensuring that the public funds for which they are accountable are being administered and used with propriety by award holding institutions, including HEIs. Annual reports made to each Council's Audit Committee, supporting the sign off of Annual Accounts by the National Audit Office.
The rationale, aims and methodology of the programme are set out in the Dipstick Testing Protocol, which also addresses the relationship between Research Councils and Funding Councils monitoring activities. Grant holding institutions are visited on a cyclical basis. The schedule of visits is determined using a risk based approach, with priority given to those in receipt of the largest volume of funding and with the most extensive research portfolios. Around 15 institutions are assessed each year.
The review usually covers the HEIs' internal management of awards and accounting arrangements, financial controls, dissemination of Research Council information and records management. The site visits usually take place over two days and involve a review team of representatives from two or more Research Councils who meet with senior finance and research administrators, procurement officers and internal auditors. Visits conclude with a wash up meeting of Research Council and HEI representatives to discuss and resolve any outstanding issues. A report is produced after each visit and copies sent to the institution.
The Research Councils have received positive feedback from institutions who have seen mutual benefits from these visits, which also encourage the exchange of good administrative practice between HEIs.
The dipstick programme is currently being reviewed to accommodate the changes necessary as a result of the implementation of the full economic cost funding model.