Finance Division

Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC)

Find out about the importance of TRAC for universities.

Overview of TRAC

All universities must complete the annual TRAC return, which is submitted to the Office for Students. The return involves analysing income and costs from the audited financial statements and dividing these between the TRAC activities of teaching, research and other. This can influence government decisions on funding for research in higher education.

TRAC also calculates the full economic cost of the university’s operations by adding a sustainability adjustment for future investment onto the total expenditure. The TRAC model then uses activity-based cost drivers (including students, staff, space and the Academic Time Survey) to allocate costs to academic departments.

This is not just a data collection exercise. TRAC data is also used to generate research income through the TRAC Research Charge Out Rates (indirect rate, estates rates, lab technician rates and research facility rates), which are used to apply for funding from Research Councils.

Other TRAC outputs include the TRAC for Teaching return and the internal TRAC school reports. Externally, the data is used by the OfS for sector wide benchmarking and can also influence government decisions on funding for research.

The TRAC return calculation is carried out by the Resource Accountant in the Corporate Accounting Team and is overseen by the TRAC Oversight Group, which reports to the University Executive Group (UEG). Additionally, the TRAC Working Group is responsible for reviewing the TRAC Research Charge Out Rates for reasonableness and supporting the annual sign-off process by the TRAC Oversight Group.

Academic Time Survey (ATS)

The Academic Time Survey (ATS) collects time allocation data from staff on mixed teaching and research contracts. The aggregated and anonymised results are then used to allocate these pay costs to the TRAC categories of teaching, research and other.

The ATS is a key driver in the TRAC model and is a cornerstone of the standardised TRAC methodology. The ATS data, along with other drivers, is used to calculate the TRAC return. The return calculation also produces the Research Charge Out Rates, which play a crucial role in generating research income. 

ATS at Sussex

We must achieve a minimum department-level response rate of 75% within the specified timeframe to ensure the validity of the data according to TRAC guidelines.

Each school is surveyed for one term per academic year. The term will rotate annually. 

At the beginning of each survey, heads of schools and administrators will receive an email notification with a list of eligible staff. They can review who is included or excluded due to circumstances and will encourage staff to complete the survey by the deadline.

All staff on 'AT' and 'AR' pay grades, involved in teaching and research should complete it. The pay costs of those on 100% research or 100% teaching contacts are directly allocated within the model and are outside the scope of the ATS.

Completing the survey

To access the survey, log in to Sussex Direct and click on the "Personal" tab.

You should refer to workload planning documents to complete the survey. Heads of School and Department will review aggregated results for reasonableness.

A small team within Corporate Accounting manages the survey and data. All survey data is confidential and used collectively, not individually. Data is used only for reporting purposes required by OfS and UK Research and Innovation.  

Further information:

If you have any questions about TRAC or the ATS survey you can email:


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