25 October 2012
HEFCE has launched a consultation on improving the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC), an activity-based costing approach used by UK higher education institutions (HEIs).
TRAC supports long-term financial sustainability by providing costing on a ‘full economic cost’ basis that allows for maintenance of infrastructure and investment in the next generation of academics. It supports the understanding and management of financial sustainability of HEIs, and helps provide accountability for the public funding provided for higher education.
TRAC also provides important cost information for HEIs’ own use, including for benchmarking purposes. One of its aims is to minimise burden by meeting the needs of a wide range of stakeholders through a single system.
The Government’s 2011 White Paper ‘Students at the heart of the system’ (Note 3) asked HEFCE to consult the higher education sector on options for streamlining the reporting requirements of TRAC. This provides an opportunity to improve the current costing and pricing systems used by HEIs, and to better exploit the potential benefits. The White Paper also asked HEFCE to consult on how TRAC data might be used to promote transparency and inform the choices of prospective students.
A review group drawn from the higher education sector developed proposals for the consultation, and commissioned research (Note 4). The review found that there is widespread support for the continuation of TRAC. This suggests that TRAC is meeting a variety of stakeholder needs, and generating useful data which are widely used by HEIs. It is a single, consistent costing methodology used across the sector. The costs of operating TRAC, which are relatively low, would in any case be incurred by HEIs undertaking costing exercises for internal management purposes.
The review has sought to evaluate the burden caused by TRAC’s requirements, recognising that it is only one set of data requests of HEIs and their staff from across a range of stakeholders including the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Research Councils, and HEFCE itself.
The consultation is wide-ranging and is structured under the following four themes:
It makes proposals about publishing data on how funding is spent in HEIs to increase transparency for taxpayers, students and prospective students, while recognising that the new Key Information Set (KIS) on the Unistats web-site provides the primary source of essential information for prospective students.
Although 65 per cent of HEIs use TRAC data for internal management purposes, some HEIs do not use it to provide management information or support decision-making processes. We invite respondents to the consultation to identify what changes to TRAC might improve its use as a costing tool for internal use.
We are not consulting on the technical details of TRAC methodology. Subject to the outcomes of the consultation, these will be reviewed by the TRAC Development Group before any changes are implemented.
Steve Egan, Deputy Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:
‘Maximising the benefits of TRAC whilst minimising the costs is the challenge of this review. This consultation offers universities and colleges, and others with an interest in the sector, an opportunity to help deliver improvements. We welcome feedback on all aspects of TRAC.’
As part of the consultation process, HEFCE will hold two half-day consultation events: on 8 November in London, and 16 November in Birmingham (Note 6).
Page last updated 25 October 2012