Advanced Research Computing


Open Source Software Sustainability Funding Call

Apply for up to £10K to improve the sustainability of your open source research software

Open source software is a crucial tool in research and scholarship leading to new knowledge, as well as supporting research reproducibility and transparency. The Software Sustainability Institute Survey identified that 92% of academics use research software across disciplines and 69% say that their research would not be practical without it (S.J. Hettrick et al, UK Research Software Survey 2014",​ DOI:10.5281/zenodo.1183562).

Software is an integral part of digital research infrastructure; this includes both domain-specific software and foundational tools which can underpin several research disciplines. Foundational tools include numerical libraries, systems for workflow execution, data science frameworks, visualisation toolkits, and more.  Open source research software reduces the need for researchers to reimplement commonly used workflows or recreate existing software.

Sustainable open research software requires a community who use, develop, and maintain the software. This may include researchers, research software engineers (RSEs), policy makers, industry professionals, and in general any interested person. It has the potential to create significant impact as it is used in multiple projects, potentially across disciplines and sectors. However, there are fewer suitable grant-based funding opportunities to support development and maintenance after the initial software is released

This scheme provides small grants of up to £10k per project to improve the long-term sustainability of research software through funding community-driven development and maintenance activities. The software may already exist as open source (e.g. under a BSD licence or GPL; see https://opensource.org/licenses for other examples), or the funding could open software that is currently closed. 

Consideration should be given to the ‘community’ aspect of open source: making the whole development process open, involving the outside world in collaborative enhancement and maintenance of the software. The community is expected to be larger than a single research project or group.

Funding can be requested for:

  • maintenance activities for existing software (e.g. fixing bugs, addressing security issues), including activities to support documentation, training, and dissemination
  • enhancing the use of recommended practices for software development, for instance adding or improving automated testing of functionality, code quality checks, or continuous deployment/release
  • development and re-engineering of existing software, to improve sustainability or expand the user base, whether with new features or better usability
  • improving performance, or enabling operation on different hardware architectures or operating systems
  • activities to widen participation in the development and maintenance of the software, including running a workshop or hackathon event.

This call is being run as a pilot scheme. If successful it is anticipated that it will be repeated on a yearly or termly cycle, with a similar annual budget.

Key dates

  • Applications need to be received by 10am on Tuesday 14th June.
  • Outcomes will be communicated by Friday 8th July.
  • Projects must start on or after Monday 1st August.
  • Projects should end by 31st July 2023.

Software Sustainability Timeline of events


The project lead can be any member of UCL staff, whether academic or professional services, who has a contract of employment which lasts at least until the end date of the project. (NB Doctoral students are not eligible to stand as lead applicants but can be paid project research assistants if it is permitted by their funding).

Each staff member can only be involved in a single proposal to this call.

The software project does not need to have originated at UCL, but it must have at least one current maintainer, core developer, or strategic leader who is a UCL staff member.

Projects with the following characteristics are not eligible for this opportunity:

  • projects that are primarily focussed on the development of novel computational tools, techniques, or methodologies, rather than improving the sustainability of existing software,
  • projects that are primarily focussed on the development or application of software to contribute to a specific research project or programme and where there is limited potential for broader applications,
  • projects featuring novel research, or early-stage prototypes without a clear community.

As part of our commitment to equity and inclusion in relation to the Equality Act 2010, we would particularly like to encourage applications from colleagues who identify as underrepresented groups including, but not limited to, women, BAME, LGBT+ community and disabled individuals.

Funding guidelines

The maximum budget available is up to £10k per project, but smaller budgets are encouraged where appropriate to enable us to fund more projects. £50k is available for this call in total.

Only UCL direct costs may be claimed, i.e. salaries (whether “directly allocated” or “directly incurred”), consumables, travel, and subsistence. Costs incurred must be relevant to the call aims. Indirects, estates, and generic administrative costs are not eligible.

If PhD students are included in the budget, their supervisor must confirm that this is not in conflict with the conditions of their studentship.

Successful applicants must:

  • Permit UCL Advanced Research Computing and UCL eResearch Domain to publicise the immediate, medium, and long-term outcomes attributable to funded projects.
  • Acknowledge UCL’s support in publications, external communications, and websites.
  • Provide a report every 6 months the project is live, including at the end of the project, describing activities, outputs, and impact to-date.

Selection criteria

Applications will be reviewed by a panel consisting of the UCL eResearch Domain Advisory Board co-chairs, members of UCL Advanced Research Computing Centre and the wider academic community. Applications will be assessed by the panel against the following criteria, listed in order of importance.

  • Community driven:
    • The involvement of the UCL and wider research community in using and/or developing the software, e.g. approximate number of users, how long the community has been using the software.
    • The demand for the proposed project: who will benefit and how.
  • Embedding sustainability:
    • The impact this funding would make on the software’s usability, communities supported, and ability to apply for future funding. 
    • The support and funding the software already received.
  • Ability to deliver:
    • The suitability of the team and the feasibility of the project plan.
    • The value for money (you may be offered a lower amount than requested if this is judged to be low).
  • Benefit to UCL:
    • The strategic benefit for UCL in funding this project, e.g., the leadership opportunities for UCL staff or students in the community beyond UCL.
    • The contribution the project makes to UCL’s research capabilities, either enhancing a growing research area or consolidating an existing strength.

How to apply

Applications should be by email to arc-proposals@ucl.ac.uk, cc’ing the Head of Department who has given approval to the project. The application consists of:

  1. A (maximum) two-page summary of your proposed project, listing (a) the title of the project, (b) the project team (including email addresses), (c) the plan of work, and (d) an explanation of how you meet each of the selection criteria. This should be an A4 PDF document in 11pt Arial, 2cm margins.
  2. A standalone Worktribe budget for your project.
    (NB: the full budget breakdown will not be provided to the review panel, only the summary of costs under each heading – staff, consumables, etc.)

The Research Software Development Group within the UCL Advanced Research Computing Centre is happy to collaborate on projects if desired, but does not have to be included. If you wish to collaborate, please contact j.p.cooper@ucl.ac.uk at least 10 working days in advance of the submission deadline to discuss your proposal. Find out more about these services on the ARC website.

Questions on preparing your Worktribe budget should be directed to your department’s finance team. Please provide them with this guidance:

  1. Start a new standalone budget (not a conventional Worktribe project)
  2. For Funder choose ‘Staff Forecast – INTERNAL USE ONLY’. This ensures that all eligible costs will be calculated at 100% (some funders cover only 80%).
  3. Export the budget breakdown to Excel. Please ensure that the spreadsheet shows every line of the budget. Applicants will need to attach this spreadsheet when they submit their application.

Other resources supporting software sustainability

You may find the Software Sustainability Institute’s online sustainability evaluation useful

The Open Life Science (OLS) program helps individuals and stakeholders in research to become Open Science ambassadors through a 16-week long personal mentorship and cohort-based training.