Finance Division


TRAC: Transparent Approach to Costing

TRAC is a process that takes the costs from the financial statements, adds a sustainability adjustment and, using cost drivers (such as the academic time survey, space, student and staff FTE’s), applies the costs to academic departments. Initially the university’s costs are analysed between the following TRAC activities:

  • Teaching – split between publically and non-publically funded activity
  • Research – split between PGR activity and the main funder types, own funded, Research Councils, Government Departments, Charities, European Commission bodies etc.
  • Other – other primary income generating activities, such as commercial activity, residences and conferences.
  • Support – the cost of activity supporting the above three categories, such as preparation, proposal writing and administration.

The cost of support is re-allocated, as appropriate using cost drivers, the academic departments, analysed between Teaching, Research and Other.

Income, from the financial statements, is allocated using various drivers, to departments and across the three activity categories.  The difference between the cost and income, by activity category is identified.

TRAC is a mandatory return for all HE institutions, submitted annually to the Office for Students.  The process was introduced in 1999 and is used by government departments to inform the funding for high cost subjects and reviews of funding methods.  In the past, TRAC data resulted in a significant increase in the funding available for research. The outputs consist of:

  • The Annual TRAC return - reports the costs of Teaching, Research and Other, along with various sub-analysis and the overhead rates (indirect rate, estates rates, laboratory technician rates and research facility rates) used by Research Councils to fund bids.
  • The TRAC for Teaching return – reports the cost of Teaching, by HESA cost centre and student FTE.

The sustainability adjustment (known as the Margin for Sustainability and Investment, MSI) is an additional cost, added to the historic cost reported in the financial statements. The MSI reflects the need to generate a sufficient surplus to cover risk, financing and investment in capital, innovation and human resources.  The MSI is a new way of calculating the sustainability adjustment as part of the 2016/17 Annual TRAC return.

The TRAC reporting process is co-ordinated by the Resource Accountant, within the Corporate Accounting team in Finance and is overseen by the University Executive Group.  A new approach has been taken to the reporting process for 2016/17, implementing a new database (Corporate Planner) to replace the complex home-built spreadsheet calculations that were used in previous years.

Academic Time Survey (ATS)

In order to comply with the TRAC costing methodology, all Universities are required to carry out a full year time survey across all their academic staff. The results obtained from this survey must be robust and representative as they form a key part of the calculation of TRAC costs. To facilitate the process of recording and analysing time, a staff time survey system has been created and made available through Sussex Direct.

The first survey took place in 2004/05 and has been re-run periodically since then.  Information about the survey can be found using the links below:

TRAC Activity Definitions

Sussex Direct ATS User Guide


Queries about the time definitions should be directed to: Steve Crossman (Resource Accountant) ext. 3964, email: Technical problems using the Time Survey system should be directed to the IT Services Helpdesk ext. 8090, email


The TRAC/FEC team are located in Sussex House, Room 207