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  1. General guidelines - eligible expenses
  2. Eligible expenses for Tri-Agency programs
  3. Roles and Responsibilities

General guidelines - eligible expenses

smart_display Video: expense Approvals Training Session

Intended for reviewers and approvers of research expenditures, this training outlines the criteria of eligible research expenses and provides guidance on how to collaborate with ORS when interpreting award and contract financial terms.

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Research funds must contribute towards the direct costs of the research for which the funds are awarded. The funds must be used effectively and economically.

Generally, eligible expenses must be:

  • Direct costs of the funded research project
  • Essential to the funded research project
  • In accordance with terms and conditions of the agreement, and agency and SFU guidelines
  • Incurred within the allowed project term

The following are required evidences to support your expense claim:

  • Appropriate justification if necessary with enough detail for an outside person to be able to make judgement on reasonability. For example, if your budgeted equipment cost more than expected, a justification of “it cost more than expected” might not be enough. You may want to describe that the original quote was for a model since discontinued; that you looked at alternatives and this is the best alternative; without this equipment, you would risk not meeting your project goal.
  • Invoices, contracts, or receipts (no credit card slips)
  • Authorization of PI or delegate
  • For travel expense, check the sponsor guidelines and SFU Travel Business Expense Policy AD3.02.


Eligible expenses for Tri-Agency programs

The Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide reflects the rules of all three grant Agencies (i.e., NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR).  Please visit the Guide in regards to eligible and non-eligible expenses and supporting evidences.

Please note:

  • Eligible and non-eligible expenses specific to a program are detailed in the Agency’s program literature. The Agency’s program literature prevails over the general Tri-Agency Guide.
  • In the absence of a written Agency policy, the institutional policy (e.g., per diem rates for travel) is to be applied.
  • In the presence of both an Agency policy and an institutional policy, the Agencies require compliance with the involved Agency policy, recognizing that grantees may also have to comply with institutional policies.

You can find further information by downloading the following documents:


Roles and Responsibilities

Under SFU's new (Feb 1, 2024) decentralized expenditure management process, the roles have changed for most grants and contracts. 

1. For Canadian grants and contracts, including Tri-Agency grants but excluding CFI, review and approval are now solely at the unit level

2. For CFI and all international grants and contracts (including US NSF, NIH etc), review and approval remain the same - optional local review and central approval with Research Accounting.


  • Creates budgets that consider all financial elements of the research activities
  • Tracks spending to stay within available budget 
  • Clears temporary deficits or overspending  Is accountable to the agency / funder and SFU for appropriate use of funds 
  • Remains compliant with applicable (SFU and funder) policies, agreements, compliance requirements and Responsible Conduct of Research
  • Ensures sufficient funds are in the account for the expense and that research expenditures are eligible 
  • Provides sufficient and clear information to enable approver to make decisions on appropriateness of an expenditure, responds to approver if more information is needed 
  • Holds the authority to use research funds 
  • Can delegate to others their authority to use grant funds:  Delegation of authority must be formally documented; 
  • Delegates must have the skills and knowledge of the funded research/activities to exercise the role effectively 
  • Delegates must not be individuals who are responsible for the review and approval of payments 
  • Works with support staff to inform Journal Voucher and Budget Transfer activities 
  • Works with support staff to ensure documentations and approvals are in good standing 
  • Provides RA with the necessary information to complete and submit financial reports 

   Dean’s Office 

  • Creates and updates a formal approval process that follows the principles of integrity, transparency, and accountability for the expense approvers to follow 
  • Designates roles responsible for research expenditure approvals 
  • Enables approvers to verify that expenditures qualify for reimbursement 
  • Has process for backstopping overspending or ineligible expenditures after exhausting alternative solutions with the researcher.  
  • Full accountability for internal controls over research expenditures 
  • Determines whether every transaction will be examined or if a  transaction threshold or sampling strategy will be implemented in the expense approval process. Communicates same to researchers and approvers 
  • Collaborates with other Dean’s offices and Research Services to make sure the process does not lead to fragmentation or inefficiencies (e.g. backstops and guarantees, triaging processes, best practices, interpretation of financial terms and conditions, etc.) 
  • Responsible for all operational costs of expenditure management  

Expense Approver 

  • Knows the terms governing expense eligibility on the research account using knowledge of principles, directives, policies, award letter, grant agreement and executed contract as applicable 
  • Ensures appropriate documentation/information is captured to support the decision on the expenditure and maintain audit trail 
  • Consults with researcher, Research Accounting on financial terms and Research Services on contract interpretation where applicable or necessary.  
  • Contacts ORS if clarification from funder is necessary. 
  • Follows a formal approval process that follows the principles of integrity, transparency, accountability, and a documented, formal delegation process as established by the Dean’s Office 
  • Approves / rejects expense 

   Research Accounting 

  • Audits expense compliance processes, makes recommendations for process improvements 
  • Spot audits expenses to ensure process is followed 
  • Consults, oversees, and monitors best practices in expenditure review 
  • Collaborates with Research Services in interpretation of financial terms in contracts and agreements when contacted to provide expertise 
  • Collaborates with Research Services on training activities 
  • Completes and submits sponsor and institutional financial reports according to schedules 
  • Performs other research accounting functions not in scope of this transition (invoicing, transferring funds to other organizations, accepting payments, setting up accounts, etc.) 
  • Manages expense review and approval for out-of-scope funds (primarily CFI and foreign sources) 

   Research Services 

  • Provides training on interpreting contract terms, policies, and principles 
  • Consults with Researcher, Deans, Research Accounting on financial risks and mitigation strategies  
  • Negotiates, executes, and highlights financial terms in research contracts, performs comprehensive risk review 
  • Communicates unusual contract terms to researcher, Research Accounting and Dean’s Office  
  • Makes decisions on cash versus accrual account setup 
  • Makes decision on Product IDs and Contract Types 
  • Circulates the Contract Approval Memo to deans for sign-off on backstops and guarantees in research projects 
  • Ensures all other (non-expense related) research compliance and eligibility requirements are met 
  • Performs all pre and post award roles and responsibilities as per usual process 

  Financial Services 

  • Backstops counterparty risk (i.e. nonpayment by sponsor) for approved sponsors (normally governments, granting agencies and non-profits).
  • Works with Research Services on managing and mitigating counterparty risk 
Last updated: June 5, 2024