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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

1.   This letter asks institutions to submit their annual Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) return for 2007-08. Responses should be submitted via the HEFCE extranet (see paragraph 7) by 30 January 2009. A separate letter will be issued in respect of the TRAC for Teaching return, which is required by 27 February 2009.

2.   Please note that we require a hard copy of your completed TRAC return, signed by the head of institution, in addition to submission via the extranet. The signed copy should be sent, also by 30 January, to Helen Cinnamond at HEFCE, Northavon House, Coldharbour Lane, BRISTOL BS16 1QD.

3.   This year's template incorporates in a single return:

  • the annual TRAC reporting requirements (including some changes to the reporting format approved by the Financial Sustainability Strategy Group)
  • the charge-out rates for research collected on behalf of Research Councils UK (RCUK), which will be used by RCUK and institutions for benchmarking purposes.

To help improve the quality of data submitted we have introduced automatic and self-validation checks. We have also requested a written commentary from institutions to explain data that falls outside the parameters set in the return and any unusual movements when comparing their data with 2006-07.

4.   We would like to draw your attention to HEFCE Circular letter 10/2008, from Professor Steve Smith (Chair of the Financial Sustainability Strategy Group) which underlines the importance of TRAC and the responsibility of heads of institutions to ensure robust data is reported. He will be writing shortly to remind institutions of the key issues.

5.   In reporting these data, please confirm that:

  • the costs and research charge-out rates reported have been prepared in accordance with the TRAC requirements set out in Section B (minimum requirements) of Part III of the TRAC Guidance issued by the Joint Costing and Pricing Steering Group in June 2005, and subsequent revisions and updates as published at
  • income has been prepared in accordance with the funding councils' requirements set out in the updated Annex 16 of that guidance (peer group lists will also shortly be added at this location)
  • tests for reasonableness have been carried out and the results of these have been presented to a Board Committee to give assurance that the outcome is fair and reasonable, as required in Part II, Chapter C.1.

6.   The annual TRAC return also asks institutions to provide details of the committee, authorised by the governing body, responsible for confirming compliance with the costing standards. These standards are set out in Part II of the TRAC Guidance, Chapter B.2.

TRAC returns data for 2007-08

7.   A sample TRAC return form can be downloaded in PDF format from the TRAC Guidance web pages. Your institution's individualised template for completion of the TRAC data return should be downloaded and submitted through the HEFCE extranet. Details of how to access the extranet will be sent with a copy of this letter to your director or head of finance.

8.   We will treat the information provided as strictly confidential. We will report to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on the sector aggregate TRAC return data only, which we expect to publish.

Freedom of information

9.   HEFCE and RCUK are covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Act gives a public right of access to any information held by public authorities. In the event of a request for information contained in TRAC and/or RCUK returns, we have a duty to decide whether information should be released or treated as confidential. Requests must be considered on a case-by-case basis, and we can refuse to disclose information only in specific circumstances. Should we receive a request, we will give careful consideration to whether the release of this information would, or would be likely to, harm the commercial interests of institutions submitting the data.

For further information about the TRAC reporting requirements, please contact your HEFCE assurance consultant. Details of all HEFCE contacts for your institution are on our web-site.

Yours sincerely

Professor David Eastwood
Chief Executive

Date: 13 November 2008

Ref: Circular letter 33/2008

To: Heads of universities in Northern Ireland, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of finance

Enquiries should be directed to:

Andrew Beazer, tel 0117 931 7223, e-mail