Deficit reasons don’t add up

James Coldwell suggests solutions to budget shortfall

Today it is reported that the university is facing a budget shortfall of up to three-million-pounds, if current spending trends continue. At first sight, this would seem like a significant cause for concern. Yet the figure of £3million is not as gargantuan as it first appears. Unpredictable things happen over the course of a university year, causing expenditure to rise or income to fall. However, there are people, clever people, who are employed to deal with just these unexpected occurrences.

We should be in no doubt that, probably at this very moment, the finance team are gathered together, crunching numbers, taking care to carry the ones and make the figures add up. A brief look at the university‘s overall financial situation (consolidated assets of “over £133m”, according to the 2005 Treasurer’s Report) reveals that while £3million is far from a drop in the ocean, it is hardly reason to panic.

What is interesting about this story is not the size of the deficit, but the explanations offered for its existence. Apparently, the new accommodation at Alcuin College or the considerable and ongoing development of the Sports Centre have had scant impact on the budget. The deficit is being blamed largely on “higher than expected energy costs”, arising from such heinous deeds as students leaving on lights, or neglecting to turn off music when leaving the kitchen. It would seem that the intelligent people working in the university’s treasury and finance offices have been staring at computer spreadsheets for too long.

The proposal, that by leaving my 20-watt mirror light-bulb on while I eat my Weetabix I am responsible for the university’s financial problems, is almost as patronizing as it is ridiculous. There is more chance of George Galloway receiving a hero’s welcome from MPs when he returns to parliament next week than this new information having any effect on student habits – or of having any effect on the costs of running the university, in the grand scheme of things.

It won’t do to rant too much about this, but surely more creativity is needed if the university‘s books are to be balanced. Perhaps a weekend away will revitalize the overworked souls in the finance department, and they will come back with some innovative and workable ways of reducing the deficit. Then we will all be able to sleep easy, with or without a nightlight.

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