Edinburgh Research Office

Full economic costing

An outline of Full Economic Costing and categories of costs to consider when preparing your research project budget

What is Full Economic Costing?

The University of Edinburgh uses the full Economic Cost (fEC) approach to prepare research project budgets for external funding applications.

The approach is based on Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) methodology, and has been mandatory for all Research Council applications and other Government departments since 2005.

The underlying principle of this methodology is to establish the true cost of a research project, and to use this to correctly inform the amount requested from funders.

TRAC website

Why is it important?

For many major non-commercial funders, including UKRI, the EC, and charities, pricing is prescribed to the University. The University measures the financial viability of a research project by how much of the cost is recovered from the funder and the contribution by the funder to overheads. Projects not reaching minimum fEC recovery and contribution to overheads levels require approval. For funding from industry, commerce, and public corporations, recovery and contribution to overheads require approval if less than 100%.

Categories of costs

Under fEC, there are three categories of costs:

Directly Incurred (DI)

Directly Incurred costs are project-specific (i.e. they arise as a direct consequence of the project taking place), actual, and must be auditable at the project level (e.g. supported by supplier invoices).

Directly Allocated (DA)

Directly Allocated costs are not project-specific (i.e. they are incurred whether or not the project takes place), and are estimated at project level e.g. investigator time, infrastructure technician time (where not DI), and Estates costs.


Indirect costs represent the costs of central and distributed services shared by other activities that are not project-specific e.g. Library services, Human Resources, and IT. They are calculated automatically.

Budget categories and considerations

This table lists the budget categories, what is covered in that category, and things to think about when preparing costs.

Note that what funders will fund may be lower or higher than fEC. For many non-commercial research funders, e.g. UKRI, the EU, and charities, pricing is prescribed to us. Projects not meeting minimum fEC recovery and contribution to overhead levels require justification and approval, so it is vital that costing and pricing is considered early in proposal development.

Directly incurred: Staff

Item Description Considerations
Direct staff PDRAs, RAs, Research Associates, Research Fellows.
  • What level of expertise do you need? Choose a pay scale to attract candidates with the necessary skills.
  • Do you require, e.g.  project management or outreach support (usually for large/complex proposals)?
  • Do you require teaching cover?
Temporary staff Employed on hourly rates or casual contracts.
  • E.g. Data analyses and transcription.

Directly incurred: Non- Staff

Item Description Considerations
Consultancy Expertise from an external organisation.
  • E.g. marketing, legal, and technical advice.
  • Obtain a quotation for the work.
Subcontracts A service from an external organisation.
  • E.g. Sample processing, and expertise to run focus groups.
  • Obtain a quotation for the work.
Travel and Subsistence Travel costs, accommodation, subsistence, and meeting/conference registration.
  • Cost every journey you and your team members need to take related to the project.
  • Include, e.g. air fares, taxes, car travel, parking fees, train fares, hotels, meals, visits/secondments from researchers outside the University, visits/secondments to external institutions, and travel and subsistence for advisory board members.
Consumables Materials required to deliver the research project.
  • E.g. datasets, software licenses, workstations, equipment costing less than £10,000 inc. VAT, consumables related to equipment items, specialist publications, open access publication fees (if permitted), data storage, exhibition materials, and video and website production.
  • Costs to cover funder audit requirements (if permitted).
Equipment Over £10,000 inc. VAT.
  • Include, e.g. VAT and/or import taxes, delivery costs, insurance, installation costs, project related running costs, and environmental costs such as air conditioning.
  • Contact Estates to confirm space and installation requirements.
Other DI costs Costs that do not fit into the DI categories above
  • E.g. participant reimbursement costs, recruitment costs, interpretation costs, and specific training courses.

Directly allocated

Item Description Considerations
Existing Staff Include enough PI/CoI time to complete the work.
  • Include enough PI/CoI time to complete the work.
Research facilities Use of national or international research facilities
  • E.g. ARCHER computing time, Diamond Light Source beam time, and the National Crystallographic Service.
Pool staff Technical staff who will be working specifically on the project  
Estates Calculated based on research staff time
  • Calculated automatically
Infrastructure Technicians Calculated based on research staff time
  • Calulated automatically


Item Description Considerations
Indirect costs Calculated based on research staff time
  • Calculated automatically


Item Description Considerations
Research student stipends and fees PGR student stipends and fees  
Other exceptions Where a funder will pay above their standard rate
  • Items where UKRI will fund at 100% rather than 80% fEC.