Special Research Fund (BOF) - General Information

The present directives come into force and will replace all previous directives as of the academic year 2013-2014. They can also be found on GeDOC onlineSpecial Research Fund. The directives for Concerted Research Actions (GOA)(Geconcerteerde Onderzoeksacties)incorporated in this version will come into force in the spring of 2014. The old GOA directives, however, remain valid for the round started in the spring of 2013.

1. Policy Framework

The Special Research Fund (BOF) KU Leuven subsidizes scientific research within a broad university context, in which various instances play a specific part. The Vice-Rector for Research, advised by the Research Policy Council, is responsible for the university’s research policy. The research policy spans the three science groups - the faculties of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Science, Engineering and Technology Department and the Biomedical Sciences Department - and is carried out according to the subsidiarity principle. The Research Council is the central advisory agency for the distribution of the Special Research Fund’s resources. The Research Council’s main tasks are: to scientifically assess research project applications and applications for fellowships, to evaluate whether or not those projects and fellowships have been brought to a favourable conclusion and to advise on the BOF’s directives. The Research Council’s various tasks are described in the Research Council’s Internal Directives (pdf)

2. General Principles

  • The aim is to achieve outstanding quality, according to international criteria.
  • The research is done on the researchers’ and research units’ initiative.
  • The research underpins two of the university’s other functions: education and public outreach.
  • Investing in research should benefit:
    • scientific knowledge;
    • the education/training of young researchers;
    • research based education;
    • valorization in various respects: economic, social, cultural.
  • The research must be led with discernment and embrace the principles of the European charter for researchers , more specifically as regards the training and career perspectives of junior researchers (doctoral students and post docs).

The charter can be consulted on: http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/index.cfm/rights/europeanCharter

3. Status of the Special Research Fund (BOF)

To manage allocated government contributions, each university - including KU Leuven - has set up its own research fund: the Special Research Fund (BOF). As stipulated in the BOF decree of 2012, the university will top up from its own resources . Resources are used by KU Leuven to fund research within its own policy framework, concretized in the intervention categories discussed below and in line with the BOF decree of 21st December, 2012.
The BOF is under the tutelage of the Flemish Minister of Innovation, Public investments, Media and Prevention of poverty.

Flemish Government Decree of 8th September 2000 on funding Special Research Funds at universities within the Flemish Community.

4. Categories

The following distinction is made:
  • Funding for specific activities for (a) “credo” research projects, focusing on quality and innovation by continuing or further expanding outstanding research and (b) “spero” research projects that stimulate new research directions. Various other initiatives (c) may also receive support on a limited scale.

  • Personal funding spans fellowships on three levels: doctoral students, post docs and Senior Academic Staff (ZAP). Within each group of disciplines also an annual Research Council Award is awarded to a promising young researcher pursuing research of exceptional quality.

The various categories of funding are:

Funding for specific activities – CREDO type

  • Methusalem: structural Programme funding for top scientists.
  • GOA projects: concerted research actions for outstanding research units, financed over five years.
  • OT projects: research projects, financed over four years, which enable recipients to take new research directions or to continue outstanding research. OT projects pursue the same quality as GOA projects for research that may be undertaken on a smaller scale.
  • START projects: beginners’ funding for BOFZAP with an excellent evaluation and newly appointed ZAP and ZAP track (only in the years with no call for Odysseus).
  • TBA projects: special funding (maximum two years), to give recipients a boost/tide them over towards more substantial funding, or to extend existing funding (this funding cannot be applied for but may stem from an application for an OT or GOA).

Funding for specific activities – SPERO type:

  • CREA projects: to stimulate highly innovative and exceptionally creative research.
  • IDO projects: to stimulate new multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary initiatives.

Funding for specific activities – various international activities:

  • VES: exploratory European co-operation; credit granted to prepare for applications of different types with international financing bodies.
  • ISP: international co-operation projects.

Personal funding:

  • POR: one Research Council Award per group of disciplines.
  • Doctoral student grants.
  • PDM-short term: postdoctoral fellowships for applicants with a PhD from KU Leuven.
  • PDM-long term: postdoctoral fellowships for researchers who, after three years of experience abroad, wish to come or return to KU Leuven and hope to be offered a Senior Academic Staff (ZAP) appointment at KU Leuven.
  • F+: fellowships tied to allocated projects of the type PF, GOA, OT/START, IDO, EU projects as co-ordinator and TBA.
  • SF: fellowships for senior researchers from outside KU Leuven.
  • BCoF: special category to co-finance postdoctoral mandates or fellowships to be applied for or obtained as external financing.
  • BOFZAP: research professorships; Senior Academic Staff (ZAP) fellowships with an explicit research assignment.

5. Common elements which apply to all categories of applications


The duration and volume of project/fellowship funding is determined per category. .

Starting date and submission date of projects/fellowships

No project, fellowship or grant can start before it has been approved by the Academic Council, deciding by delegation of power of the University Board. For each category the grant letter states when and under which circumstances a start can be made. Fellowships have a fixed duration, but the starting date can be flexible – within limits – and the submission date partly depends on interruptions. Projects have a fixed starting date and submission date.

Seniority conditions and pregnancy.

When, in the case of a specific candidate/applicant, the application’s admissibility is subject to maximum seniority conditions (no longer than five years after the doctorate, for example), said conditions will, in case of interruptions due to pregnancy (maternity leave, work exemption, breastfeeding leave, parental leave) be extended with one year per child.

Duration of fellowships interrupted as a result of pregnancy

In all cases the duration of the interruption (in days) as a result of pregnancy (maternity leave, work exemption, breastfeeding leave) or parental leave will be added to the allotted time. When such an interruption occurs, the general financial rules governing the current staff category apply.

Other interruptions/deviations/questions

For interruptions that are not the result of pregnancy - a stay abroad or a lengthy leave for medical reasons, for example - the general rules remain valid, alongside possible directives included in the present directives.  Deviations must be applied for and interruptions, possible problems etc. reported in writing or by e-mail to the Chair of the Research Council.

Status of the applicants

The general provisions below are supplemented with and subordinate to possible category specific provisions as described in each specific category. They span applications for both projects and fellowships.

One must reasonably assume that supervisors and co-supervisors will keep the status giving them the right to apply, for the entire duration of the requested project or mandate (in this context we assume an extension of Tenure Track ZAP, and ZAP-Track, even if it is subject to evaluation).
The general directives for supervisors are:

  • The supervisor is the contentual initiator and bears the final responsibility for the research project/programme or research fellowship. He bears the final responsibility for the project in question, for the allocated budget, for meeting set goals and for reporting. He is the project’s spokesman and co-ordinates in consultation with any co-supervisors;
  • A supervisor is a Senior Staff Member (ZAP) or a researcher in a ZAP Track, a person holding a permanent FWO (Research Foundation Flanders) fellowship, university hospital staff with Ph.D and with at least the rank of (assistant) hospital director, an ERC grant holder or a postdoctoral researcher with type 2 Odysseus funding, all of them at KU Leuven, or a VIB principal investigator with a full appointment at a VIB department of KU Leuven. ‘Special Lecturers in Arts’ have to contact us for possibilities.
  • Unless otherwise stated, supervisors must be appointed minimum half-time at KU Leuven for the entire duration of the project in the status that allows them to be supervisor. Exceptions to the half-time appointment rule may be requested but will only be granted by the Research Council Board if the appointment offers sufficient guarantees that the research will be led satisfactorily.

The general directives for co-supervisors are:

  • The co-supervisor makes an important contentual contribution and - under the supervisor’s co-ordinating hand - helps realize the research project/programme or helps steer the research fellowship. Under the supervisor’s overall responsibility, part of the allocated budget may be used by him.
  • Co-supervisors must have minimum the level of researcher at KU Leuven with a PhD, or must be a KU Leuven Administrative and Technical staff member with highly esteemed scientific qualifications. Voluntary staff members, unpaid visiting professors, research managers and IOF mandate holders cannot be co-supervisors.
  • Postdoctoral researchers who wish to be co-supervisor of an application but have no appointment for the entire duration of the project may exceptionally still be co-supervisor (1) if they have an appointment for at least half the duration of the project and (2) if the Research Council Board highly estimates the contribution of the postdoctoral researcher based on a motivation of the applicant.
  • Co-supervisors working at another research institute must have a minimum 10% appointment at KU Leuven and be in a position to make an important contribution to research within KU Leuven. The Research Council Board determines what exactly an important contribution to research at KU Leuven means.
  • Co-supervisors who are to be given emeritus status while their project is in progress, must remain active within the KU Leuven Association prior to commencing their retirement for minimum one year while the project remains in progress – two years if the project exceeds four years.

Supervisors and co-supervisors cannot themselves be financed as staff members of a project/fellowship which they apply for.

In these directives the applicant group is defined as follows: the group of the supervisor and all co-supervisors of the application and their co-workers as far as they are involved in the research. The applicant group must be understood separately from the organisational chart.

The status of 'supplier' is no longer in use since the academic year 2011-2012. Suppliers of ongoing projects maintain their status until the project ends.

Applications - Forms

All applications must be filed with the Research Co-ordination Office (DOC).  In most cases the application procedure is digital on GeDOC online and KU Loket (KU Portal).  Applications for fellowships may, in some cases, be filed online via human resources application tools (e-sollicitatie).


For each category, it is the Research Council or a delegated committee that advises.  For all categories - except BOFZAP Research Professorships - this advice is offered to the Academic Council, which takes the final decision. For BOFZAP Research Professorships, the BOF advisory committee - itself structured in much the same way as the Research Council - will formulate a scientific assessment of the candidate’s research qualities and of the proposed plan. This assessment and the decision of the special executive committees and the faculty Advisory Committees are important elements in the Special Academic Council’s decision. Other criteria also influence the university authority’s decision, as is the case for other ZAP appointments

.Selection suggestions are formulated for all categories on the basis of quality, according to the criteria defined for each category in these Procedures and Directives and for certain funding categories on the basis of expert advice from the field of the specific application. Quantitative data merely support this advice. The number of allocations invariably takes the available BOF budget into consideration.
The available budget is not divided in advance between the Humanities and Social Sciences, Science, Engineering and Technology and Biomedical Sciences. Neither is it divided beforehand according to another aspect of the organigram or a content principle.

Gender balance

Gender balance is pursued in case of BOFZAP appointments and appointments on a postdoctoral level: maximum three-fifths of the academic staff members with a PhD are of the same sex. As long as this target is not reached on the level of the concerned scientific group, within this group and with equal qualifications, priority will be given in principle to candidates of the underrepresented gender. This priority is not given automatically and unconditionally as the personal situation of each candidate should be considered while judging.


If questions and remarks arise concerning the treatment of an application, applicants can contact the secretary of the Research Council.
If factual errors are assumed to be identified or if one assumes that the BOF procedures and directives were not followed correctly, an applicant of a mandate or project may appeal against a negative decision of the Research Council .
The appeal procedure is as follows:

  • The applicant submits a motivated ‘request for revision of the decision’ to the BOF ombudsperson through the secretary of the Research Council.
  • This ‘request for revision of the decision’ must be submitted within 20 working days after the decision of the Academic Council or not later than 10 working days after receiving the feedback with respect to the content.
  • Within 10 working days the BOF ombudsperson decides if the complaint’s subject could have influenced the decision and therefore could have led to a request of revision. Through the secretary of the Research Council, the BOF ombudsperson informs the applicant.
  • If the question is further examined, the application will be judged again. Two ‘extra members’ of the Research Council (see the internal rules of the Research Council on https://admin.kuleuven.be/raden/onderzoeksraad.html) will be involved. Their expertise fits with the research agenda of the applicant as good as possible.
  • The decision of the BOF ombudsperson or, in case of a second judgment, the outcome of this second judgment, will be submitted for decision by the Executive Board. If this decision differs from the first, negative decision, a memorandum with the proposition of granting the mandate/project, including a suggestion of the budget, will be presented to the Academic Council.
  • An applicant can appeal only once for the same application.

If external experts are called in to assess, the following procedure is followed, unless stated otherwise:

  1. Applicants compile a list of potential external referees who are not linked to a Belgian university, taking conflict of interest and geographic distribution into consideration. For each referee on the list, key references are added. These key references bear a clear link with the subject of the application or highlight the referee’s expertise in the broad field of the application. In principle, postdoctoral researchers are not allowed to act as referees.
  2. Members of the Research Council (or the BOFZAP advisory committee) and the chair of the Research Council select a number of referees from the list and possibly add one of more referees on the basis of own research or expertise.
  3. Applicants are not allowed to contact the referees concerning the application for which they act as referee. The referees are contacted by the Research Co-ordination Office. The applicants may be asked to sign a statement on this matter. Infringements can have implications for the application.

In principle individual assessments by external referees and members of the Research Council are dealt with anonymously during Research Council meetings. Only the chair of the Research Council, the Vice-Rector for Research and the administrative co-workers involved know the referees’ identities.

International quality level

The idea behind the allocation of BOF resources is to help achieve an internationally competitive quality level. The criterion for assessing this international quality level may differ, depending on the discipline. In many cases, this criterion revolves around publishing in the best international magazines and proceedings. Disciplines or subjects that are less conducive to international publishing should also strive for quality on a par with the best similar research abroad. Within VLIR an Authoritative Panel has recently been created, with the specific task of compiling VABB lists (Flemish Academic Bibliographic List) for the domains within the humanities and social sciences.  In as far as those classifications are available, they can be taken into consideration. When lodging an application, applicants are invited to signal relevant domain specific publication customs to the chair.


Applicants will be informed in writing about the outcome of their application as soon as possible after the Academic Council’s decision. With reservation of that decision, the result is communicated unofficially, either by the chair of the Research Council and on his own initiative, or (depending on the category) in response to a telephone request to the Research Co-ordination Office (DOC). If the decision is negative, the applicants are always told the main reasons why this is the case. The way in which feedback is given differs for each category (see further). For further details about the decisions, the chair of the Research Council should be contacted.

Spending of the allocated BOF funding

BOF funds are research funds, their use must benefit the research. Doctoral students and postdocs can have limited teaching assignments (doctoral students maximum 4 hours per week, junior postdocs maximum 2 hours per week and senior postdocs maximum 3 hours per week, each on an annual basis). The funding of researchers with a salary  should be avoided, fellowships/scholarships are envisaged, and the spending on equipment and operation must be explicitly associated with the project as it was granted or modified whilst executing.


Some sort of final report must be filed by all categories. For GOA, OT, START and IDO one intermediate report is also required. For doctoral grants, also the ones within a project, notice that the doctorate has been successfully completed is expected (no report). When an extension of a fellowship or grant (fellowships) is applied for, a progress report on the previous period must be added. For BOFZAP research professorships, the university has decided that, next to the traditional ZAP assessment procedure, an additional research report will be expected.
More detailed instructions regarding volume and frequency of the reports can be found in the allocation letter for each category.

Assessment of reports

The Research Council assesses the reports. When assessing new applications, assessments of prior allocations will be taken into consideration. Failing to meet the reporting duty may endanger new applications for BOF resources. Each year the university sends its own assessment of funded projects to the Minister(s) responsible.


Marian Schoenmaekers,
Head Special Research Fund, Processmanagement and organisation
016-32 40 45