What is participant support?

In general, participant support funding is provided to enable and encourage individuals to attend conferences or training programs without undo financial burden. Participant support costs (PSC) are those costs paid to (or on behalf of) participants or trainees (not employees) for participation in meetings, conferences, symposia, and workshops or other training activities. They can include fellowships, scholarships, and other forms of student financial aid. These activities are not intended to benefit the university or contribute to any research outcome and should only benefit the participant. 

Who is a participant?

A participant is defined as a non-employee who is the recipient, not the provider, of a service or training associated with a workshop, conference, seminar, symposium, or other short-term instructional or information sharing activity. Participants are not required to provide any deliverable, other than meeting the program requirements (e.g. attendance, testing, etc.).

Examples of a participant:

  • Students
  • Scholars
  • Scientists
  • Teachers
  • Private sector representatives

Examples of what a participant is not:

  • An employee of the university
  • Advisory board members
  • Interns who have paid appointments
  • Anyone who has a deliverable or is primarily providing a service to the project
  • Conference speakers or presenters
  • Human subject
What are the different types of participant support?

Participant support can be categorized by three types. Each award clearly defines the type of support and the specific requirement for each award.

  • participant support
  • REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates)
  • GRS (Graduate Research Support)
What are allowable participant support costs?

Participant support costs for a project may include registration fees for the event, transportation to/from and lodging during the event, stipend, as well as a per diem allowance to cover meals and incidental expenses.

  • Stipend: A stipend is a set amount of money to be paid by the university directly to the participant. 
  • Travel: Travel includes the costs of transportation and associated travel-related expenses and must follow sponsor guidelines as well as university policies and guidelines. The sole purpose of the trip must be to participate in the project activity.
  • Subsistence Allowance: The cost of a participant’s housing and per diem expenses (reduced accordingly if meals are provided at the meeting/conference) necessary for the individual to participate in the project are generally allowed, provided these costs are reasonable and limited to the days of attendance. Participants who live in the local area are not entitled to subsistence payments, although they may participate in meals and breaks provided at the meeting or conference. Subsistence allowances can be either a lump sum direct payment to the participant or reimbursement of actual expenses.
    • Meals (excluding catering): The meals paid on behalf of a participant in connection with meetings, conferences, symposia, or training projects are generally allowable costs. Example: Purchased food, such as pre-packaged box lunches, sandwiches, cheese trays, pizza, cookies, fruit, etc. Only the participant’s portion of the meal is allowable. 
  • Other: Certain other costs in support of the participant’s involvement may be allowable, including training materials or laboratory supplies that can be tied to specific participants. (This differs from conference supplies, which should be charged to the non-PSC project.) See example below:
    • Fees: The fees paid by or on behalf of a participant in connection with meetings, conferences, symposia, or training projects are generally allowable costs. Additionally, these fees may include laboratory fees, passport or visa fees for foreign participants, and registration fees.​
What are unallowable participant support costs?

Participant support costs do not include the following types of expenses:

  • Costs for PI or project staff*, such as salary and wages, fringe, or travel
  • Costs for a consultant or trainer providing services to the university project or program, such as fees or travel
  • Guest speaker or lecturer fees, such as honoraria or travel
  • Conference/workshop support costs such as facility rental, catering, supplies, or media equipment rental
  • Costs for collaborators, such as travel
  • Human subject payments for participating in a research project
  • Incentives (prizes), memorabilia or gifts

If your area of concern is not addressed in this FAQ, please reach out to your area accountant to discuss further.

*Project staff include those individuals who are listed in the Senior/Key Person or Other Personnel sections of the project budget. These individuals generally have an employment relationship with the university and are engaged in accomplishing the project’s scope of work or deliverables.

Why does the participant support portion of my award need to have its own project and speedtype?

Federal regulations state that participant support must be kept in a separate account and tracked for better internal controls.

Can I rebudget participant support funds during the life of the award?

There are no restrictions on transferring funds to a participant project from an existing non-participant project within the same award. However, transferring funds from a participant project to a non-participant project within the same award requires prior sponsor approval. If an award does not already include a participant project, then adding a participant component to the award would also require the sponsor’s prior approval.

It should be noted that any participant support funds moved into a non-participant project will then have F&A applied as appropriate.

Can I rebudget funds within the different participant support cost categories?

Generally speaking, rebudgeting within different participant support cost categories is allowable. An exception would be if the intent were to rebudget funds into the “Other” category. That action may need agency prior approval given that NSF closely scrutinizes costs in the “Other” category. Please contact your Grant Accountant with questions in this scenario.

How would I make a prior approval request?

Please work with your respective OCG officer to submit a prior approval request to the sponsor. Instructions and more information can be found on OCG's Subaward and Participant Support Reallocation page.

What kind of documentation should a department keep on file for participant support costs?

Like other award-related expenses, a department must maintain back-up documentation for all participant support costs. This would include a list of program participants and evidence of attendance of participants, such as a daily log or similar documentation.

Are Facilities & Administration (F&A) costs applied to participant support costs?

No. Participant support costs are exempt from F&A in federally sponsored projects as stated by the Uniform Guidance. For Non-Federal awards, specific guidelines within each award should be utilized to determine if F&A is allowable on the participant support costs.  For any award made under Uniform Guidance, participant support costs (similar to equipment) should be excluded from the base used to calculate F&A costs.

Can salary be charged as a participant support cost?

In general, only stipends may be charged to a participant support project. Stipends denote participant is not an employee of the university.

What job codes are eligible to be a participant?
  • Post-Doctoral (Post-Doc) Trainee (3201) - Appointee must possess a Ph.D. or equivalent. The appointment is viewed as transitional or training, and involves research or training exclusively. No service to the university is expected. 
  • Pre-Doctoral (Pre-Doc) Trainee (3204) - This refers to graduate students enrolled in a pre-doctoral program and participating on a training grant. No service to the university is expected. 
  • Student Stipend (3205) - Trainees, who are not graduate students, but enrolled in high school or undergraduate programs and participating on a training grant. No service to the university is expected. 
  • Participant Stipends (3207) - Participants, who are not employees, related to sponsored projects that are entitled to receive stipends for their participation in the sponsored project protocol. Generally, these stipends are in accordance with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Grants Policy Manual definition of participant Stipends. No service to the university is expected.
Why am I being asked for the list of participants?

With every participant support project, the list of participants must be provided within the documentation of the fiscal files in Research Financial Services. This allows retention of documentation that is often requested by the sponsoring agency for audit purposes.

May I include conference speaker fees in the participant support costs section of the budget?

No, the participant support category is for the support of participants or trainees only. Speakers and trainers are not considered participants and should not be included in this section of the budget.

We would like to rebudget our NSF award to move funds out of the participant support category. Do we need NSF approval to do this?

Yes. While NSF does provide rebudgeting authority for many categories, you must receive the approval of the cognizant NSF program officer to reallocate funds out of the participant support category. You may, however, rebudget funds into this category without prior NSF approval.

How should student employees be budgeted?

A student cannot be compensated partially as an employee and as a participant. It is up to the proposing organization to determine whether they should be a student employee or a participant based on the role of the student in the project. Student employees are compensated for services rendered and their level of compensation is tied to the number of hours worked. Participant support costs should be used to defray the costs of students participating in a conference or training activity related to the project.

Are costs such as room rental fees, catering, supplies, etc. related to an NSF-sponsored conference considered participant support costs?

No, the participant support cost line in the NSF budget should not be used for such costs.

Do participant support costs apply for all participants, or do they only apply for non-awardee organization participants?

Participants from the submitting institution and other institution(s) could be considered participants.

Can human subjects that are being paid as survey takers be considered participants?

No, the participant support cost section of the budget may not be used to provide incentive payments to research subjects. Human subject payments should be included on line G6 of the NSF budget under “Other Direct Costs”, and indirect costs should be calculated on the payments in accordance with the organization’s federally negotiated indirect cost rate.

What is an REU student?

A Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program is aimed at developing the students’ research skills and providing a high-quality mentoring experience. Based on this role, an REU student is considered a participant in a training activity, and funds for their support should be included as a stipend in the participant support cost section of the budget. The goal is to provide a practical educational experience for the undergrad student, rather than simply a job. Below are two resources that further explain the REU guidelines:

Per FAQ, list of participants is required for documentation. Is the workshop or seminar agenda is also required?

Similar to other award-related expenses, a department must maintain back-up documentation for all participant support costs. In addition to a list of participants, evidence of attendance of these participants, such as an agenda or similar documentation should be kept on file.

In the 'What job codes are eligible to be a participant' section of your website: Does student stipend mean that an undergrad can hold a job at the university that's non-research related (i.e. working in the cafeteria) but still qualify as a participant?

The participant cannot be an employee of the university.

If we only budgeted travel stipends and we decide its more effective to pay travel costs directly on behalf of participants at the post-award stage is sponsor approval needed for that change?

If travel of participants is budgeted for, and sole purpose of the trip is to participate in the project activity, the travel expenses may be paid for directly or as a reimbursement made to the individual.

There is no restriction on transferring funds from a non-participant project to a participant project. Does this mean participant support costs can be directly charged to the main project if it is budgeted under the participant project?

No. The account under which an award cost is budgeted is the account that should be charged. Participant support costs should not generate F&A, while the main project often does.

If paying an undergrad a student stipend with a Payment Authorization, should I use account code 495306 (Participant Costs)?

A stipend for an undergraduate student, paid with a PA, would be charged to account code 495302.

NSF clarified through its newsletter back in June 2017 that venue rental, equipment rental, catering for participants, and workshop supplies are not considered participant support costs. What meals are an allowable participant support cost?

Catering is not a permissible participant support cost. Cost of meals, however, if expenses are for participants, in place of a meal per diem, are eligible participant support costs. These costs must be budgeted or have prior sponsor approval. 

Catering: Food costs related to an NSF-sponsored conference. A vendor is secured through a service agreement/contract and provides food service for university sponsored projects on property owned or leased by the university, is both licensed and insured, and prepares, transports, set outs and/or serves the food. Catering should be budgeted on line G.6., “Other Direct Costs” to ensure appropriate allocation of indirect costs.

Meal: Purchased food, such as pre-packaged box lunches, sandwiches, cheese trays, pizza, cookies, fruit, etc. Only the participant’s portion of the meal is allowable.

Is income tax charged to participant support stipends for domestic and international participants?

Fellowship or stipend payments can be paid through the payroll system, but since these payments are not made because of an employment relationship, payments to recipients who are U.S. citizens and resident aliens are not subject to federal and state income tax withholding and payroll taxes (i.e., FICA and Medicare taxes). The university has no tax reporting requirement for these payments, although recipients should be aware that these payments may be taxable income. The interpretation and implementation of the tax laws are the domain of the IRS and the courts. 

Nonresident alien recipients of fellowship or stipend payments are subject to federal tax withholding, and the university is required to report the information annually to the recipient and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on federal Form 1042-S.

Employee Services - International Employee

Participant support budget is likely to change for a lot of projects due to COVID.  It’s hard to know how to re-budget it as of right now, but if we have allowable participant support costs right now that aren’t part of the original PSC budget how would y

A major deviation to the budget should be sent to OCG.  They will send your request to the sponsor.