The Agencies have made minor revisions to the Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration (the “Guide”), with changes taking effect on April 1, 2022.
The following changes affect the use of grant funds.
- Travel and travel-related subsistence expenditures: As part of the Greening Government Strategy, travel expenditures may include the cost of carbon offset credits. Please refer to the Tri-agency carbon offset statement.
- Gifts, honoraria and incentives: Grant recipients and/or individuals who conduct research independently as part of the terms and conditions of their employment, including but not limited to researchers in academia, hospitals and research institutes cannot receive honoraria from Tri-agency grants.
A complete summary of changes is provided on the Tri-agency website.
The Agencies, comprised of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), have embarked on a renewal initiative to streamline and simplify the administration and use of grant funds. The centerpiece of this initiative is the development of a ‘principles-based’ Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration that has the following objectives.
- Promote efficiencies
- Reduce administrative burden
- Provide greater flexibility to administering institutions and grant recipients in ensuring the appropriate accountability and use of grant funds
The Division of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation (VPRI) in collaboration with stakeholders across the University of Toronto (U of T) have made significant progress over the past several months in reviewing and revising institutional policies to support the requirements in the new Guide.
The new Guide sets out four basic principles and a set of directives that collectively provide a framework governing the appropriate use of Agency grant funds. The appropriateness of a grant fund expenditure should be assessed against the following steps in order of precedence.
- The program / funding opportunity description for that grant
- The four principles
- The relevant directive details
- Applicable U of T policies and guidelines
Grant expenditures must meet the following principles.
- Contribute towards the direct costs of the research/activities for which the funds were awarded, with benefits directly attributable to the grant
- Not be provided by the administering institution to their research personnel
- Be effective and economical
- Not result in any personal gain for members of the research team
* The italicized sections of the principles are further defined in Appendix 1: Definition of Terms in the new Guide.
According to the Guide, the directives (mandatory requirements) provide direction for administering institutions and grant recipients to exercise sound judgment and due diligence in their decision-making process concerning the use of Agency grant funds. The five directives are outlined below. Information about each directive, including their related principles, roles and responsibilities, and specific requirements, are detailed in the new Guide.
- Employment and Compensation Expenses
- Goods and Services Expenses
- Travel and Travel-Related Subsistence Expenses
- Hospitality Expenses
- Gifts, Honoraria, Incentives
Program / Funding Opportunity & Institutional Policies
In addition to the four principles and the directives, the eligible use of grant funds is also governed by certain allowances or restrictions that may be included in a program or funding opportunity description (for example, things that would be for the sole purpose of that program only and not necessarily considered eligible under the principles and directives). In addition, the assessment of the appropriateness of grant fund expenditures will now have a greater reliance on U of T policies and guidelines such as the Guide to Financial Management when the new Guide is silent, or defers to institutional policies (e.g. for the directive on travel and travel-related subsistence costs.)
For those instances where a cost is mentioned in the Guide (e.g. as a directive) and in U of T policies, the more restrictive rule applies.
Expenses against Tri-Agency grants and awards cannot be incurred during the retroactive period, which is the period between the date that the grant recipient is formally notified of the funding decision and the effective grant start date (where the notification occurs before the grant start date).
Exceptions may be considered in consultation with the program officer in the VPRI (see the section ‘Contacts’ below). Expenses must be eligible in accordance with the Guide, program / funding opportunity literature and institutional policies.
The Guide lists the roles and responsibilities of the Agencies, administering institutions, and grant recipients (and any delegates) necessary to ensure the sound stewardship of Agency funds. Further information about the respective roles and responsibilities are outlined in the Agreement on the Administration of Agency Grants and Awards by Research Institutions, the program/funding opportunity literature, and any relevant Agency agreements.
- Set out the terms and conditions governing the administration of grants by the institution
- Communicate and consult with the institution on the introduction of new policies or changes to its existing policies that may have a significant impact on the institution, to the extent reasonably possible
- Make funds available, in a timely manner, to grant recipients
- Conduct periodic reviews of the use and administration of grant funds
- Oversee approval of changes to grant administration that have financial implications for the Agency
- Have the right to terminate a grant when agency requirements can no longer be met
- Develop and implement effective policies, administrative systems, procedures and controls to ensure that all activities funded by an agency are conducted in compliance with legislated requirements, agency policies and procedures and other grant funding agreements
- Monitor the eligibility of their recipients throughout the term of the grant and advise the relevant agency immediately of any change in the eligibility status of an applicant or recipient
- Withhold or withdraw approval of expenditures that contravene an agency or institutional policy or the terms and conditions of the grant
- Provide training to staff and grant holders on the institution’s policies and practices with respect to tri-agency grant administration
- Provide adequate physical and organizational infrastructure for the conduct of research training, and other funded activities
- Oversee and submit grant amendments to the relevant agency
- Keep complete and accurate records to:
- Report on the use of agency funding, including verifiable audit trails with complete supporting documentation for each transaction, for at least seven years
- Report on the use of the grant funds annually
Grant Recipients & Any Delegate
- Are expected to conduct their research in a manner that adheres to the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research
- Hold the authority to use the grant funds in accordance with the Tri-agency’s principles and directives as outlined in the TAGFA
- Are responsible for authorizing* grant expenditures and any charges or adjustments made to the grant recipient’s grant account
* Only the grant recipient can delegate their authority to use grant funds to others. Similarly, only grant recipients or individuals duly delegated by grant recipients are able to authorize grant expenditures or other charges to the recipient’s grant account.
The new Guide took effect on April 1, 2020. U of T grant recipients of Agency funds are required to follow the principles and directives in the new Guide in combination with U of T policies and guidelines and applicable Tri-Agency program / funding opportunity literature.
The Division of the VPRI has been working in collaboration with stakeholders at U of T to conduct a thorough review of U of T policies and guidelines to ensure that that our policy framework meets the requirements of the new Guide. To aid grant recipients and support staff in navigating the new Guide in tandem with institutional policies, the VPRI has developed a number of resources and training tools.
This four-part tutorial is aimed at helping grant recipients understand the new Guide.
Gain a high-level understanding of the new Guide. This module includes highlights of changes from the previous Guide and what these changes mean for U of T.
- Module 1: Introduction to the New Guide (~6 minute video)
Learn how the new Guide is structured for determining expense eligibility on a Tri-Agency grant. This module presents the new Guide in the same order you would follow when determining expense eligibility.
- Module 2: Use of Grant Funds (~17 minute video)
Find highlights of applicable U of Toronto policies and procedures for certain expenses where the new Guide defers to institutional policies or does not provide direction.
- Module 3: Institutional Policy Highlights (~9 minute video)
In this self-paced learning module, try out your knowledge of the new Guide and institutional policies by working through a collection of sample expense scenarios.
The U of T Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration (TAGFA) Companion is intended as a ready reference that summarizes key sections of the Guide and integrates the content of the Guide with applicable U of T policies, guidelines, and resources.
Last updated Thursday March 23, 2023
1. Who should I contact with questions about expense eligibility on my Tri-Agency grant?
Questions on the use of grant funds on Tri-Agency-funded grants should be directed to the program officer for that fund in the Research Services Office (RSO) or Innovations & Partnerships Office (IPO), whose name is indicated on the Funded Research Digest (FReD) next to 'Authorized by'. If the question relates to a proposal for a Tri-Agency competition, visit the Contact Us page and search by sponsor (e.g. NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC).
If you have a general question about the U of T Guide to Financial Management, please contact your Financial Advisory Services and Training (FAST) Team representative for your Faculty/Division.
2. Will expenses that were eligible under the old Tri-Agency Guide continue to be eligible under the new Guide?
In general, expenses that were eligible under the old Guide continue to be eligible under the new Guide, provided that they abide by the principles and directives on the appropriate use of grant funds outlined in the new Guide, and are in accordance with U of T policies.
3. Are non-refundable travel fees reimbursable from Tri-Agency funds due to the impacts of COVID-19?
The Tri-agencies (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC including New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration funding), have confirmed that the reimbursement of non-refundable travel fees from agency funds is acceptable considering the impacts of COVID-19. This applies to the travel of both principal investigators and research personnel.
If travel arrangements in relation to a funded research initiative have been cancelled but purchased travel fare did not include options for refunds due to cancellation, and no cancellation insurance was purchased, the travel claimant must document cancellation and financial credit details.
Update (May 14, 2021): Financial Services has issued guidelines on steps that university employees should take in light of a new refund policy being provided by Air Canada and potentially other airlines to customers. Researchers should consult with their Divisional administrators and Divisional Financial Advisory Services and Training (FAST) Team Representatives for more details on this process. Questions regarding expenses on Tri-Agency funds may be directed to the 'Authorized By' staff contact on the FReD and via the VPRI contact list.
4. Is home internet an eligible expense on my Tri-Agency grant?
Home internet expenses are not an appropriate use of grant funds under the Guide in almost all instances, since these expenses do not contribute to the direct cost of research for which the funds were awarded, with benefits directly attributable to the grant.
Exceptions may be considered in extenuating circumstances in which the grant recipient can justify that home internet incremental costs are directly and exclusively attributable to the Tri-Agency funded grant.
5. Is home office furniture/equipment related to remote work an eligible expense on my Tri-Agency grant?
Purchase of home office furniture is not an appropriate use of grant funds under the Guide, since these expenses are not a direct cost of the research activities for which the funds were awarded.
Faculty are encouraged to consult with their Departments/Divisions for information on addressing the need for appropriate office furniture at home related to remote work. Faculty and staff are also encouraged to consult The Temporary Special Telecommuting Work Arrangements Guideline, issued for COVID-19, for information on the need to purchase furniture for a modified workspace as a result of accommodation for medical purposes.
6. Are protective masks an eligible expense on my Tri-Agency grant?
Purchase of protective masks or other face coverings as a COVID-related incremental cost is not an appropriate use of grant funds under the Guide in almost all instances.
Protective masks classified as personal protective equipment (PPE) that are directly related to a funded project are eligible expenses under the Guide. For more information on PPE for research use, consult the Environmental Health and Safety website.
7. Are dependant care expenses incurred while travelling eligible on my Tri-Agency grant?
Expenses claimed by grant recipients and research personnel travelling for research-related purposes must be directly related to the purpose for which a Tri-Agency grant was awarded, and must comply with the Guide’s four principles on the eligible use of funds. In the case of travel and travel-related subsistence expenses, the Guide defers to institutional policy. For eligible Dependant Care expenses at the University of Toronto, please see section 10 “Dependant Care and related expenses” under Travel and Other Reimbursable Expenses – Policies and Guidelines in the University’s Guide to Financial Management.
8. I am traveling for purposes related to my Tri-Agency grant. Can I charge the new, U of T carbon offset fee for air travel to my Tri-Agency grant? *NEW*
No, travel funded by external research grants, including Tri-Agency, is not subject to U of T’s carbon offset fee, according to the program guidelines. For travel related to the purposes of a Tri-Agency grant, the Guide allows grant recipients to charge carbon offsets purchased through travel providers to their grants, provided that the purpose of the travel is aligned with the principles and directives of the Guide.
If you have questions about eligible or ineligible expenses related to your specific research award, please reach out to the ‘Authorized By’ contact listed on your Funded Research Digest (FReD), noted on the bottom right corner, or the appropriate program officer by searching the VPRI staff directory on the Contact Us page.
Please check back for additional resources as they become available.