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HESA is currently consulting on a number of proposals for change to the Cost Centres, with particular reference to the principles for defining Cost Centres, mapping of academic departments to Cost Centres and the non-academic Cost Centres. Responses should be sent to [email protected] by 11 March 2011.

Dear Colleagues

Review of Cost Centres

This circular outlines a number of proposals for change to the HESA Cost Centres, with particular reference to the principles for defining Cost Centres, mapping of academic departments to Cost Centres and the non-academic Cost Centres. Responses to this consultation should be sent to [email protected] by 11 March 2011. Please return only one response per institution.


The HESA Student, Staff and Finance records all contain a Cost Centre dimension which, in theory, allows meaningful comparisons between different types of data at a more granular level than the total institution. Historically, the specification of Cost Centres was considered a part of the Finance Statistics Return (FSR) and the definition of a cost centre was driven by the notion of grouping together of activities with a similar cost.

A review of the FSR in 2004 led to a reduction in the number of Cost Centres as elements of the coding frame were either removed or merged.

The Office for Students (formerly known as HEFCE) has sporadically run a survey to collect, from each institution (in England and Northern Ireland) the allocation of academic departments to Cost Centres. Although this is a valuable reference source to those undertaking institutional comparisons, this information has not been updated for a number of years.

There are now two drivers for change in the HESA cost centre coding specification. First, there is increasing pressure from institutions who, as users of HESA data, find the current coding frame too restrictive and an impediment to meaningful benchmarking analysis. The development of HEIDI and the creation of a National Planners Group have both provided platforms for these issues to be raised and discussed. Second, the recent publication of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) unit of assessment (UoA) structure provides an opportunity to bring the two coding frames into closer alignment which will facilitate richer institutional analysis and pave the way for greater use of HESA data in the REF.


Following the sector-wide consultation, changes will be for implementation in the 2012/13 HESA collections (Student, Staff and Finance) in parallel with the implementation of JACS 3.0.

Cost Centre Review forum

Since the Cost Centre coding frame has such a broad range of applications, informal soundings were taken from 158 stakeholders from throughout the sector who took part in an online discussion forum in November last year. Comments were invited on a number of Cost Centre-related topics and the discussions that took place have helped to shape the proposals presented in this consultation.

Individual Cost Centres

The current set of Cost Centres has remained unchanged since 2004 and it is recognised that they are no longer entirely fit for purpose.

In order for the Cost Centre structure to be fit for purpose, that is, for institutions to be able to undertake benchmarking, a stable and reasonably granular set of Cost Centres is required. The clear message from the discussions which took place on the Cost Centres forum is that apart from a small number of areas, the current set of Cost Centres fulfils the requirements of the sector. While the structure caters well for STEM subjects, the arts and design, sociology and humanities Cost Centres are not sufficiently granular to enable meaningful comparator analysis across the sector. There was some useful exploration of requirements discussed on the forum which can be summarised as:

CC29 Social studies

The message is that Cost Centre 29, Social studies is too broad. There was a consensus among those discussing this Cost Centre that Law, Politics and Sociology and Social policy should be separately identified. There were suggestions that this Cost Centre should be split in order to identify economics, anthropology, human geography, social work and international studies either separately or as part of  a proposed cost centre e.g. Politics and international studies.

CC31 Humanities & Language-based studies

It is clear from the discussions on the review forum that the current Cost Centre 31 Humanities & Language-based studies needs to be split in order to be able to separately identify history and classics. There is a requirement to separately identify English as well as some demand for also being able to identify philosophy, theology and religious studies.

C33 Design & creative arts

There is a requirement for a Cost Centre for Music, drama, dance and performing arts that is visible from art and design.

Relationship of Cost Centres to REF UoAs

The value of analysis of HE sector data can be increased by drawing together different types of data and data from different sources. However, this type of analysis is often hampered by variations in data definitions and/or the lexicon associated with different data systems.

The Research Assessment Exercise groups research activity into Units of Assessment (UoAs). The 2008 RAE included 67 UoAs and the recently published list for REF has 36. A member of (research active) staff is normally (though not always) allocated to a single UoA.

As both UoAs and Cost Centres are intended to describe groupings of staff/resources it is important to ensure that these two coding frames work together. Data is collected locally at Cost Centre level and is reassigned to UoAs and so closely aligning the two coding frames and establishing a set of principles should reduce the burden on institutions when allocating provision/resource to these frameworks.

Those who took part in the forum discussions were presented with a number of possible options for the mapping of Cost Centres to UoAs. The preference among forum participants is for a one-to-many relationship of Cost Centres to UoAs as Cost Centres are considered likely to be more stable over time than UoAs. Also, Cost Centres take a more balanced consideration of both teaching and research. Because the Cost Centres span three HESA returns there is a strong preference for them to remain as stable as possible.

However, a one-to-many relationship of Cost Centres to UoAs is not practicable as some of the UoAs include a range of subject areas with different cost structures. What is feasible is a model which allows a one-to-many relationship in both directions, that is either a one-to-many relationship of Cost Centres to UoAs or a one-to-many relationship of UoAs to Cost Centres, but not does not simultaneously split both. This structure allows for creation of either the Cost Centre list from the UoA list or vice versa by amalgamating as necessary.

Currently however it has not been possible to establish a way of allocating geography and related subjects in a way that meets the criteria set out above.

Individual Cost Centre codes and order

Cost Centres have always been coded with a two digit numerical code. As the list has been reviewed over the years and subsequently existing Cost Centres collapsed or expanded and new Cost Centres introduced, there are gaps in the valid entry list. Therefore, as part of this review, HESA proposes to establish a new set of codes, perhaps with three numerical digits, so that there are no gaps in the list. 

This review presents an opportunity to reconsider the order of Cost Centres within the Cost Centre list. It might be that they remain in a logical order, however given the proposed changes it might be that some Cost Centres no longer sit in the right place in the list.


Colleagues are invited to consider the following questions with reference to the proposed Cost Centre structure and relationship to UoAs.

1) Does the proposed list of Cost Centres provide sufficient disaggregation in the areas where there is a desire to capture more detailed data?

2) Would the proposed relationship of Cost Centres to UoAs enable detailed analyses and benchmarking of activity within your institution/organisation? Solutions to the issues surrounding geography are particularly welcome. Proposed alternative mappings are welcome for consideration.

3) Should a new set of codes be applied to the revised list of Cost Centres so that there are no gaps in the list?

4) Is the order of Cost Centres appropriate and does it facilitate allocation of departments to Cost Centres?

Non-academic Cost Centres

A small number of non-academic Cost Centres are used to record other activities in institutions and are used in the HESA Staff and Finance records. Again these are used for benchmarking. The current list is:

  • Total academic services
  • Central administration & services
  • General education expenditure (finance record only)
  • Staff & student facilities
  • Premises (split into ‘Repairs and maintenance' and ‘Other expenditure' in the Finance Record)
  • Residences & catering

A detailed definition of what is included in each of these Cost Centres is provided in the documentation for the Finance Record. Colleagues involved in the forum discussed the current list and a number were concerned that it does not offer a level of detail that can be used for benchmarking, nor does the list reflect current practices and structures within institutions. It was proposed by one forum participant that the list should be consistent with the definitions of activities used in the Estates Management Statistics Record.

There is also much support for the suggestion to rename this section of Cost Centres ‘Professional Services' as it more accurately reflects higher education at present.


Colleagues are invited to consider:

5) Is the current list of non-academic Cost Centres appropriate and useful?

6) Would a more detailed breakdown of some of these areas assist with comparisons and benchmarking, or would it be difficult for institutions to produce? For example in previous years there used to be a breakdown of academic services into three sub-categories as follows: Central libraries & information services, Central computer & computer networks, other academic services.

7) Would renaming this set of Cost Centres 'Professional Services' more accurately reflect its place in higher education?

Mapping of departments to Cost Centres

Since institutions have different organisational/academic structures, the allocation of academic departments to Cost Centres is a piece of work that every institution needs to undertake before making the various data returns. There is currently no way of knowing how individual institutions allocate their academic departments to the sector-wide Cost Centre structure and so comparisons across the sector can be difficult.

The allocation of departments to Cost Centres has previously been collected by the Office for Students (for institutions in England and Northern Ireland) although this has not taken place for a number of years due to other issues taking priority. The Office for Students published the mapping back to institutions via its extranet and made the mapping available more generally upon request. 

It is proposed that this mapping should be routinely collected by HESA as part of an expanded Campus Record (which collects metadata about campus locations). The collection would become a broader metadata collection and include the allocation of departments to Cost Centres. Collecting the mapping is unlikely to increase burden on institution because the exercise is already undertaken as part of preparation for returning data to HESA.

The HESA Campus Record records the location (postcode and grid reference) of each physical campus of an institution. The collection process involves institutions updating, if necessary, the data from the previous year. The CAMPID field is then collected in the Student Record and the Staff Record and the metadata provided in the Campus Record facilitates analyses of these other data streams. The student and staff collections include validation to ensure that only known CAMPID codes are returned.

The Campus Record provides a useful parallel to the idea of collecting the allocation of departments to Cost Centres; a possible model is where the Campus Record becomes a broader metadata collection that covers both campus data and Cost Centre data. Both the campus and Cost Centre metadata are institution-specific and are likely to be relatively stable over time. Institutions will not only be able to recognise other institutions where their Cost Centre structure reflects their own and therefore support relevant benchmarking, but also will be able to identify institutions which are not suitable for benchmarking with due to different internal structures. Institutions will not be required to allocate Cost Centres to campuses.

HESA proposes that, as with campuses, Staff, Student and Finance records will be cross-checked with the metadata provided about Cost Centres so that if an institution has not mapped any departments to a particular Cost Centre, HESA would not expect staff, students or finance to be reported against that Cost Centre.

Should the current Campus Record be expanded to become a broader metadata collection, this will be for implementation for 2012/13.


Comments or suggestions on the mapping of departments to Cost Centres are invited, specifically:

8) Would the routine collection and publication of the department/Cost Centre mapping add value to the analysis of HESA data?

9) Would this added value be greater than the cost of collecting the information?

10) If this is to be collected, would it make sense to combine this with the HESA Campus Record to create a general purpose Metadata Collection?

11) Should the allocation of professional services to non-academic Cost Centres be mapped and the data returned to HESA? 

12) Should this mapping be made freely available to users of HESA data?

13) Are there any other issues?

Action required

Colleagues are invited to comment on the proposals outlined in this consultation document, specifically considering the thirteen questions. Colleagues are also invited to make any other relevant comments. Please return only one response per institution. Responses to this consultation should be sent to [email protected] by 11 March 2011.

Next steps

Analysis of the consultation responses will take place in March 2011. Institutions will be informed of the agreed changes in April 2011.

Contact Liaison by email or on +44 (0)1242 388 531.