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Proposal Development and Submission

Participant Support Costs

The National Science Foundation (NSF) defines participant support costs (PSC) as “direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with meetings, conferences, symposia or training projects.”  

Participants perform no work or services for the project or program other than for their own benefit. A participant is not involved in providing any deliverable to the university or a third party. The expenses may be paid for directly or as a reimbursement to the individual.

While participant support is provided by a number of federal agencies and other sponsors, NSF has the most comprehensive policies governing the budgeting, spending and reporting of these funds.

Proposal Preparation

  • review program guidelines to determine whether PSC can be included in the budget
  • if allowed, describe how the participant support and associated costs will directly benefit the project
  • F&A costs are not allowed on PSC expenditures, except that NSF allows 25% F&A on REU participant stipends only

Award Management

  • PSC should be identified within the award 
    • NSF will identify such funds specifically as PSC
    • Other agencies may use another cost category such as stipends
  • PSC must be accounted for separately from the other award costs
  • rebudgeting from the PSC category into other categories requires prior sponsor approval before award end
  • any unexpended PSC are returned to the sponsor at award close-out – funds cannot be used to offset overexpenditures in other categories

Principal Investigator Responsibility

The principal investigator (PI) and project staff should become familiar with the sponsor’s PSC requirements and are expected to insure compliance with those requirements. In addition to the financial restrictions noted above, the PI/department is also required to retain records detailing:

  • criteria by which participants in the program were selected
  • copies of applications of selected participants, with documentation as to how they met the selection criteria
  • list of program participants and documentation of their participation in the program

For further information on participant support costs see to NSF’s Proposal and Award Policies & Procedures Guide, Chapter II, Sections of the Proposal section g. Budget and Budget Justification (v) Participant Support (Line F on the Proposal Budget). For information on and NSF proposals for conferences, symposia and workshops, see NSF’s Proposal and Award Policies & Procedures Guide Chapter II.E.9.