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TRAC changes on the way for universities

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is going ahead with plans to reform its Transparent Approach to Costing, and says the changes could lead to savings for universities.

HEFCE set out options for the future of the system in a consultation published on 25 October aimed at reducing the burden of the TRAC process.

The consultation follows a review commissioned by HEFCE earlier this year, which found that TRAC costs universities around £100,000 a year each. The council says that reforming the system could save universities up to £20,000 a year each.

TRAC is a costing tool, used since 1999 to calculate full economic costs, manage finances, and to account for the spending of public money at universities. The data gathered through TRAC is used to inform decisions both at universities and at HEFCE and the research councils.

One option for reform is to allow more institutions to opt out of completing all the requirements of TRAC. At present, institutions that bring in less than £500,000 in public research funding each year do not have to submit as much information as higher earners. Many do not need to collect time allocation data from academics, for example.

HEFCE suggests increasing the income threshold to exempt more institutions from the full administrative burden. However, Heather Williams, a financial consultant at HEFCE, warns that universities opting for dispensation would receive lower levels of funding for their indirect costs.

Other proposed changes include combining TRAC with the TRAC(T) tool for assessing teaching costs. However, the consultation states that there remains uncertainty over whether refining time-allocation methods and submission procedures will significantly improve efficiency.

Respondents have been asked to identify changes for the TRAC system that would make it a more useful tool for university management. At present, 65 per cent of universities use TRAC to provide management data to inform their decision making.

HEFCE will hold two TRAC consultation events, at the University of London Union on 8 November and at the University of Birmingham on 16 November. The deadline for consultation responses is 11 January. Changes to TRAC will not be implemented before the end of the 2013-14 academic year.