Funding assurance programme

UKRI Funding Assurance undertake assignments either as visits to research organisations or as desk-based reviews.

Currently, we have suspended all assurance assignment visits to research organisations due to COVID-19 restrictions. If visits have been planned, we will convert these to desk-based reviews. This will replicate much of an assurance visit but will be conducted remotely.

We recognise that this will remove the opportunity for the face to face contact that can be so valuable for both parties but circumstances make this impossible at present. We will continue to arrange desk-based reviews with research organisations over the coming months, using teleconference and video conference facilities as needed.

If there are specific circumstances at your research organisation that make it difficult to meet our proposed deadlines, we will treat these sympathetically. Otherwise, we will progress our assignments on a business as usual basis.

The funding assurance programme provides assurance to the UKRI accounting officer that public funds destined for research are properly safeguarded and used for the purposes intended by parliament.

This is achieved by examining compliance with the terms and conditions which accompany research funding across four pillars of assurance:

  • research grants and fellowships
  • doctoral training funding
  • transparent approach to costing
  • non-financial terms and conditions.

The most research-intensive research organisations should expect assurance activity approximately every three years.

UKRI and the Office for Students have signed a collaboration agreement confirming how the two organisations work together on shared priorities across research and teaching. The collaboration agreement establishes protocols for sharing information related to TRAC compliance and governance.

Dispensation

The threshold at which higher education Providers (HEPs) are eligible for dispensation from the need to comply with the full transparent approach to costing (TRAC) requirements is £3 million per annum of publicly-funded income, calculated as a five-year rolling average.

Being eligible for and applying dispensation reduces the administrative burden of TRAC for HEPs that have low levels of publicly-funded, but applying dispensation is an institutional decision. Being eligible for dispensation does not preclude HEPs from deciding to fully comply with TRAC-requirements and to calculate their own rates.

HEPs that are eligible for, and claiming dispensation, while being required to submit annual TRAC returns for accountability purposes, do not need to comply fully with all the requirements of TRAC. Institutions eligible for, and claiming dispensation:

  • do not have to obtain time allocation data robustly from academics (for example, heads of academic departments could provide this information)
  • do not need to identify space usage robustly across the whole institution
  • do not need to take into account the type of space when allocating space costs
  • are not permitted to calculate and apply laboratory technicians and research facility charge-out rates
  • do not need to calculate staff full-time equivalences robustly
  • should apply the lower of their own indirect charge-out rate, or the dispensation indirect charge-out rate, to research council and other government department cost-based research projects
  • should apply the lower of their own estates charge-out rate, or the dispensation estates rate, to research council and other government department cost-based research projects.

For more information about dispensation, read Annex 1.2b of the TRAC guidance.

The dispensation rates are updated annually and are set at the sector lower quartiles, which for 2021-22* are:

Indexed rate expressed as £ per staff FTE (based on 2019-20 data indexed for two years) TRAC upper quartile rates for the sector TRAC lower quartile rates for the sector
Indirect cost rate £56,850 £46,634
Laboratory estates rate £15,844 £10,499
Non-laboratory estates rate £9,053 £5,483

(Information published 15 September 2021)
*The 2021-22 dispensation rates are applicable immediately from the date of publication until they are replaced with the 2022-23 rates in spring/summer 2022.

IRO, PSRE, RI Guidance

Although IROs, PSREs and RIs are rarely required to submit annual TRAC returns, the TRAC  principles should still be followed where relevant when costing research projects.

Any non-HEP research organisation that receives an average of £3 million per annum (over the previous five years) in publicly-funded research income per annum is required to calculate their own rates for the year that the threshold has been passed.

The rates should be reported to UKRI via completion of a FEC self-assessment questionnaire explaining how the rates have been calculated.

Research organisations that receive an average of less than £3 million per annum (over the previous five years) in publicly funded research funding per annum can choose either to use the dispensation rates or calculate their own rates.

Changes or circumstance:

  • If currently using dispensation rates, but publicly funded research income increases so that the five-year rolling average moves above the £3 million threshold, then the research organisation will be required to calculate their own rates and report them to UKRI using the FEC self-assessment questionnaire for the year that the threshold has been passed.
  • If currently using own calculated rates, and publicly-funded research income decreases so that their five-year rolling average is now below the £3 million threshold, research organisations can either continue using their own rates (as verified by UKRI Funding Assurance) or opt to use the dispensation rate.

All research organisations that are using their own rates are required to re-submit a new FEC Self-Assessment Questionnaire annually, clearly stating the updated charge-out rates applicable to new applications, and the date that they are applicable from.  More frequent submissions will be required if significant changes to the methodology or the rates are identified in the intervening period.

Full economic costing (FEC) rates

Independent research organisations, research institutes and public sector research establishments can use dispensation rates (if they meet the eligibility criteria set out above) or can calculate their own rates for validation by UKRI Funding Assurance.

Further Information

You can find further guidance on transparent approach to costing and full economic costing in the TRAC guidance available on the TRAC website. Historical guidance is available from the TRAC guidance archive.

Annual TRAC 2018-19: sector summary and analysis by TRAC peer group data are published by the Office for Students.

For further information on the dispensation rates and eligibility to apply them, contact Andrew Dicken on 01793 413 224 or email: andrew.dicken@ukri.org

Contact the TRAC support unit on trachelpdesk@kpmg.co.uk or phone 0115 935 3400 for information on the quartile rates.

Last updated: 15 September 2021

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