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Planning and Resource Allocation Office

 

What is TRAC?

Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) is an activity based costing methodology devised for the sector and introduced in 1999/2000.  It involves the attribution of income and expenditure, as reported in institutions’ financial accounts, to activity. Each Higher Education Institution has to complete and submit an annual statutory TRAC return.In addition to this accountability requirement the TRAC information should also be used to support institutional financial management.

What are the "activities"?

There are four core activities that are defined in TRAC:
Teaching (T):   Split between publicly funded and non-publicly funded
Research (R):  Split between main sponsors of Research (Research Councils, Charities etc) 
Other (O):       Income generating activities which are neither Teaching nor Research (such as external trading or consultancy).
Support (S):    Administration work, general management or other work in support of the main three activities above.

Why is this important?

The costs attributed to Research through TRAC underpin the calculation of the University’s Full Economic Cost (fEC) rates which are used in calculating the cost of research grant applications.  This is a source of significant income to the University and, as such, the process is subject to audit by the Research Councils.

The analysis of teaching costs supports the University’s case for sustainable rates of funding and fees.  The University’s calculation of teaching costs also need to be robust to ensure that the University can justify its level of funding and fees to Government.

How are costs attributed between activities?

The single biggest element of expenditure for most institutions, including Cambridge, is Academic staff pay. In order to apportion this expenditure institutions are required to have robust methods of collecting academic staff time.  Academic staff time is the main driver used to attribute academic pay and other Department/Faculty expenditure between activities. Other main cost drivers used include space and student numbers.

What will I be asked to do in the Time Allocation Survey?

At Cambridge we conduct an annual Time Allocation Survey of all academic staff each year. It is one of the Sector’s least intrusive staff time surveys and as such it should not prove to be a significant burden to complete. However, the data collected are of essential importance for the University.

Each member of academic staff will be asked to complete the survey for just one allocated week during the academic year. All 52 weeks are surveyed which is done deliberately to capture the whole range of activities, recognising that for some individuals their survey week may be atypical.

In order to ensure the correct attribution of costs it is important that the maximum number of staff take part across Departments/Faculties. Failure to attain high levels of response makes the University vulnerable in relation to assurance audits undertaken by Research Councils UK and HEFCE. It also undermines the robustness of the University’s fEC research and teaching data which may impact on funding.

Where can I find get more information/background on TRAC?
There is a variety of information available.  For more background information on TRAC, visit the University’s fEC web pages. 

The latest overview on TRAC and information on results for the sector was been provided by the TRAC Development Group in 2009 with a foreword from Professor Stuart Palmer (University of Warwick) If you have any queries on any of the information provided above please contact:

Stephen Heppenstall: Planning and Resource Allocation Office (sh462@admin.cam.ac.uk)
Jonathan Rose: Finance Division (jr469@admin.cam.ac.uk)