Externally Funded Research Acceptable Expenditure Policy


This policy applies to all staff members and students at the University managing or undertaking externally funded research projects.


To direct principal investigators and finance managers who are involved in requisitioning, approving, and monitoring direct research project expenditure.


  • Budget categories
  • Non-staff direct cost purchases
  • Unacceptable project expenditure – examples
  • Related projects
  • Staff salaries and leave
  • Tests for acceptable expenditure


Budget categories

1. Direct costs must closely follow the budgeted line items or categories established in the contract or agreement with the funder.

Note - for instance, funds budgeted for subcontracts or student stipends should be used for such purposes.

2. If this is not possible a contract variation is to be sought from the funder (through the UniServices Contract Manager).

Non-staff direct cost purchases

3. All direct research project expenditure must be intended to support the achievement of the contracted or agreed objectives or deliverables of the project and not for anything else.

4. All items purchased using research accounts are to remain the property of the University, including books or research equipment specified in the contract budget.

Unacceptable project expenditure – examples

5. Expenditure that must not be charged to research projects may typically be covered instead by a unit’s operational budgets or by personal expenditure.

Note - examples of such unacceptable expenditure could include:

  • staff morning teas
  • staff gifts
  • parking offence fees
  • membership fees/subscriptions
  • attendance at conferences unless directly related to the research project e.g. presenting results or to learn a technique

Note - It is possible that some gifts or koha to third parties may be appropriate project expenditure if they are directed to achieving the objectives or deliverables of the project.

Related projects

6. Direct costs must be charged to the actual project they relate to and not to other projects even if they are from the same funder and are for related research. Funds must not be transferred (journaled) between project accounts unless it is to correct errors in the original charging.

Staff salaries and leave

7. Salaries paid to all University staff members working directly on a research project for whom a portion of their time is being paid for from the project budget must be coded to the research project account and the balance to the home department commensurate with the actual time commitment to each.

Note - for example, a PI may have 0.2 FTE budgeted to their externally funded research project and 0.8 FTE committed to their home department/school/LSRI. This information including the start and end date for the research project must be advised to Human Resources. HR will ensure that the actual salary costs (in this example 0.2 FTE) are charged to the project for the duration of the project.

8. Salary on-costs such as annual and sick leave is to be charged to the research project account and the home department in the same proportion as the salary.

9. Special leave such as parental, study, and long term sick leave cannot be charged to the research project account as they are not imperative to achieving the contracted project objectives or deliverables, nor are they supported by funders. Therefore they must be covered by the department/school/faculty.

10. In some circumstances a suspension of the research project contract for the term of parental leave may be approved – the UniServices Contract Manager can provide more information.

11. Staff members who have indirect functional research management roles such as faculty/LSRI administrators or finance staff, or research office staff are not direct costs and are not to be included.

Tests for acceptable expenditure

12. External funding for research projects is not the same as internal university operational funding. Apart from any overhead components, research project funds must be used to cover the direct costs of the research project (award or contract) in compliance with the funder’s and the University’s rules, policies, procedures, and guidelines.

Note - while it is not possible to define all acceptable expenditure, there are two tests that will help with determining what can or cannot be charged to an externally funded research project account.

These are:

1. Is the cost essential to achieving the contracted or agreed objectives or deliverables of the project?
2. Assuming the cost was not itemised in the application or award budget, if it had been would it have complied with the funder’s requirements or would it have been declined/ excluded?


The following definitions apply to this document:

FTE means full time equivalent working hours.

Koha is a discretionary gift, token, or a contribution which is distinct from expenditure for services supplied.

Principal investigator is the named researcher responsible for carrying out the research and delivering the outputs relating to a funded research project.

Staff member refers to an individual employed by the University on a permanent, temporary full or part time basis.

University means the University of Auckland and includes all subsidiaries.

Key relevant documents

Document management and control

Owner: Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Content manager: ORSI
Approved by: Vice-Chancellor
Date approved: 23 March 2018
Review date: 30 November 2022