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Contract negotiations: what you need to know

Academics can sometimes view the contract negotiations after a grant has been awarded as an unnecessary delay, but contract officers are trying to ensure that the needs and interests of those involved are protected. Alan Hemmant and Emma Purnell, research contract officers at the University of Sussex, explain the negotiating process and its importance.

Academics often ask: “Why can this not just be signed? Surely these are just standard contracts that have been signed thousands of times before?” We can have some sympathy for this attitude, but the fact is that no two research projects are the same and what works for one situation may not work in another. There are ways of making the contract-drafting process as efficient as possible, but the contract’s reliability is ultimately dependent on a strong and effective line of communication between the researchers and their professional service division. Clear and comprehensive instructions are invaluable.

Robust and effective contracts are essential, not just desirable. A poorly drafted agreement could, for example, place onerous and unexpected obligations on the principal investigator, or could take away essential freedoms such as the right to publish. There is often a sense of trepidation and fear in the negotiation of contracts, but best practice mostly comes down to common sense. In this article, we will provide some general guidance on how to contribute to a successful and productive contract negotiation. 

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