Research Challenge Trust Fund (RCTF) history

The Research Challenge Trust Fund was developed in 1997 with the passage of HB1, the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act for strategic investment at the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Kentucky’s six regional universities. 

The program, administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education, is designed to advance the economic success of Kentucky and its citizens through education and research. RCTF provides Kentucky’s universities support for ongoing efforts to attract and retain renowned faculty and researchers.

The Endowment Match Program creates chairs, professorships, fellowships, professional scholarships (at the Research Universities), undergraduate scholarships (at the Comprehensive Universities), and endowments for research support and for the library. 


RCTF 2022-2023

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) has directed both research and comprehensive universities that 100 percent of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Research Challenge Trust Fund (RCTF) program funds must be endowed to support initiatives in science, technology, engineering, math and health sciences (STEM+H) fields (22 RS, HB 1). UK received $20 million and, based on these CPE guidelines, developed a new process for RCTF proposals.

The Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research announced a call for proposals in October 2022 whereby a diverse team of academic leaders will select compelling proposals that meet the RCTF guidelines and our institutional research priorities and strengths. Selected proposals will require a 2:1 match, with the RCTF contributing one-half of the donor’s commitment. The 2:1 match will allow more proposals to receive funding, which will increase the reach of our research dollars.


Essential criteria for RCTF

To qualify for the match, a proposal must meet three essential criteria:

  • A specific donor prospect must be identified, and the gift must be made in full within five years from the date of the Gift Agreement. 
  • It must be designated for an endowment that specifically supports an initiative in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health (i.e., STEM+H). Furthermore, the endowment is to support research activities intended to stimulate business development, increase externally sponsored research, create better jobs with a higher standard of living and facilitate Kentucky’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.
  • It must relate to one of the eight established “Research Priority Areas” (RPAs) at the University or establish that it is a core component of a knowledge-based economy and thus an area of strategic benefit to Kentucky. The eight RPAs are:
    • Cancer
    • Cardiovascular
    • Diabetes & Obesity
    • Energy
    • Equity
    • Materials Science
    • Neuroscience
    • Substance Use Disorder


How funds may be used for RCTF

Proceeds from the endowments can be used to support various activities including endowed chairs and professorships, research scholars, research staff, graduate fellowships, undergraduate scholarships, research infrastructure, and mission support as described below.

  • Chairs: New faculty positions, salary supplements to existing faculty positions, and associated expenses for those positions, including start-up costs, salaries, benefits, travel, and other professional expenses as permitted by university policy. 
  • Professorships: New faculty positions, salary supplements to existing faculty positions, and associated expenses for those positions, including start-up costs, salaries, benefits, travel, and other professional expenses as permitted by university policy. 
  • Research Scholars: Salaries, benefits, and other personnel related expenses associated with non-tenured, medical school faculty who exhibit the potential to assume a chair or professorship position once tenure has been awarded. Research scholars should have clearly defined research agendas that relate specifically to the fields of study envisioned for the ultimate occupants of the chairs or professorships. Funding for this purpose is time limited. Each research scholar may be supported with endowment proceeds for a maximum of six years. At the end of that time, if the research scholar has not been appointed to the identified chair or professorship, university officials should fill the position with an appropriately qualified, tenured faculty member.
  • Research Staff: Salaries, benefits and other personnel-related expenses associated with full-time or part-time staff assistants who are directly linked to the research activities of an endowed chair or professor.
  • Graduate Fellowships: Fellowship stipends for outstanding graduate or professional students, which may include travel and other expenses as permitted by university policy.
  • Undergraduate Scholarships: At the comprehensive universities only, program funds can be used to support scholarships for outstanding undergraduate students, which may include travel and other expenses as permitted by university policy.
  • Research Infrastructure: Start-up and operating expenses that are directly linked to the research activities of an endowed chair or professor, including equipment, materials and supplies, and other research related expenses as permitted by university policy.
  • Mission Support:  Program funds can be used to support research and graduate missions at all institutions, and programs of distinction or applied research programs approved by the Council at the comprehensive institutions. Consideration will be given to mission support activities such as: (1) expenditures that enhance the research capability of university libraries (i.e., books, journals, research materials, media, and equipment); (2) start-up costs, equipment, and supplies that support faculty, graduate student, or undergraduate student research activities; (3) funding for visiting scholars, lecture series, and faculty exchange; and (4) expenditures for the dissemination of research findings (i.e., nationally prominent publications and presentations at conferences, symposiums, seminars, or workshops). However, priority will be given to mission support expenditures that encourage the research related activities of faculty and students. Expenditures for general personnel expenses that are not directly linked to an endowed chair or professor do not qualify as mission support activities.

Endowment minimums found in Administrative Regulation 8:4 shall apply to each of these gift types.


How the process will work

Provost DiPaola and Vice President for Research Cassis will appoint and lead a diverse group consisting of various UK academic leaders. No one associated with the Office of Philanthropy will take part in selecting proposals that will receive match funds.

Here is the step-by-step process for this round of RCTF:

  • Proposal Creation: Academic leadership and philanthropy officers should inventory compelling research initiatives within their unit and transdisciplinary opportunities that fall within the RPA’s and designated institutional research priorities. Academic leaders and philanthropy officers should look for alignment with these initiatives and donor prospects, including individuals, foundations and corporate entities. No institutional funds may be part of the gift. Members of the Office of Philanthropy will be available to assist with developing strategy concerning potential donor prospect alignment and gift planning, and to coordinate proposal opportunities with institutional-level donors and transdisciplinary opportunities. It is acceptable for the donor’s pledge to be contingent upon receiving an RCTF match. 
  • Proposal Submission: The proposal will be submitted to the selection committee via the VPR Support Grants portal, which lays out proposal content. Submission details are included in this portal. The proposal will be evaluated according to its potential impact and outcomes within the research priorities, funding amount (e.g., sustainability of the initiative and utilization of the gift plus match), fit within the RPA or other STEM+H priority, ability to advance the Commonwealth and support within the academic department.
  • Proposal Acceptance: The committee will notify applicants of selection to receive the 2:1 match. Philanthropy officers and academic leaders can inform donor prospects of the 2:1 match opportunity and work to secure the gift commitment. All commitments must be documented through the Office of Philanthropy’s existing gift agreement process. Units will notify the committee of any selected match proposal where the donor prospect declined to participate. The committee will select an alternative(s) from the submitted proposals and notify that unit. 

We encourage you to submit your questions to vpr@uky.edu.