Departments to suffer £1.2m hit

SAM NEWSOME

SAM NEWSOME

University departments at York have been told to find an additional £1.2 million in savings for the academic year 2010-2011, following huge governmental budget cuts in higher education funding announced before Christmas.

The University, which receives an estimated 22-23% of its budget from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the governmental tool for distribution of public funds to universities, aims to save ­ an extra £4 million in the next academic year, 30% of which will come directly from academic departments.

David Garner, University Press Officer, stated: “Under the University’s Better Management programme, each department has been consulted about the financial envelope in which they operate.

“Last year, in anticipation of likely reductions in HEFCE funding, departments were asked to make adjustments to their initial targets for efficiency savings.” The £1.2m cut raises concern regarding the possible implications for students and staff, which could mean greater lecture sizes, disenfranchisement of daily academic affairs for students and a loss of international competitiveness.

Further concern was raised after it was revealed that the requests for savings would not be spread evenly across departments. Some departments will be taking a much greater hit than others, whilst a few were asked for nothing at all.

Alex Cockle, a first-year Economics student, said: “The fact that academic departments are being hit so greatly is bad enough for us; surely this will affect lecture audience size and each department’s general ability to function? [What’s] worst… is that the University isn’t spreading this hit across each department evenly. I guess they must have taken endowment into account, but… it’s very unfair.”

Jane Grenville, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Students, explained: “We try to treat all academic departments equitably and set contribution targets (money sent back to the central pot to pay for support services), which take into account existing income per academic department (calculated on teaching and research income equalised across a whole department), staff student ratios (SSR) and a range of special circumstances (e.g. recently established departments). 

“­In other words, the uneven distribution of how much we asked for is in pursuit of fairness between departments and takes into account the impact on students in departments where the SSR is high.”

FACTS AND FIGURES: THE UNIVERSITY

£4 million extra to be found in savings for 2010/11
£1.2 million to be salvaged from departments
HEFCE funding accounts for 22-23% of York’s income
Pay settlements fall from 2% rate of growth to 0.5%
Uni to return £0.5m to departments in 2009/10

FACTS AND FIGURES: THIS SECTOR

£180m cut for this year; next year an extra £398m
£950m cut by Government predicted over next 3 years
6.6% reduction in HEFCE grant from 2009/10 to 2010/11
Tuition fees likely to increase to at least £5000
25% of unis running at break-even or operating deficits

The extent to which individual departments will be affected is not yet known, and the exact new savings figures per department have not been published.
As stipulated by Grenville, the savings will be spread across departments, taking into account factors such as existing income. Professor Dale Sanders, Head of Biology, a particularly well -endowed department, stated: “The Biology Department is in a very healthy financial position as a result of its success in bringing in some very large research grants. Our contribution targets have been increased but we will be able to find the funds.”

Tim Ngwena, YUSU President, gave his support to students, saying: “Although this is a financially difficult time for all universities, we’re looking to the University of York to ensure that any cuts have a minimum impact on York students. However, whilst the University deploys the fiscal inputs, we’ll be scrutinising the teaching output carefully to ensure that any changes are centred on the students’ and the value of their degrees.”

Charlie Leyland, YUSU Academic Affairs Officer, stated: “This is a really important time for students to engage with their course reps, and for them to engage in their Union so I can do my very best at representing students needs. We need to work together, fast, smart, and with the University in the face of adversity to make our world class University even better.”

Leyland continued: “We’re going to have to be sophisticated in establishing and safeguarding, and extending what we hold dear to our higher education.”
Despite next year’s inevitable cuts, Grenville pointed out that from this year’s budget, the University planned on “returning £0.5m to departments to strengthen the academic core”. Grenville also particularly emphasised the planning of another £0.5m to spend on improving University strategic projects to benefit students. This would include accelerating the spend on improving teaching spaces.

With a planned 6.6% reduction in HEFCE’s Government grant from 2009/10 to 2010/11, the University of York has had to make other budgetary and planning adjustments.

The University will, however, continue to receive funding for its historically significant buildings, namely Heslington Hall and King’s Manor. This grant will not be as large as that of establishments such as Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, universities with a great number of listed buildings.

The University does not, however, plan to claw back any more money from facilities management or student support. Hence, portering will not be affected by the cuts. Administration will also be left alone. Grenville claimed that in a situation such as this “we [the University] usually go for these as they are not as visible to students.”

Grenville pointed out that the pay settlement for staff would decrease in its current rate of growth from 2% to 0.5%. She did, however, make it clear that this was planned before the additional budget cuts were announced.

With the government also proposing a tuition fee increase for domestic students, from the current £3,225 to at least £5000, there are worries of a reduction in home students that actually possess the financial vaibility necessary to attend University.

Grenville stated: “Broad proposals on student number growth over the next ten years will be discussed at the next meeting of Senate (Feb 2 – YUSU reps attend) and shouldn’t be released until considered by Senate and other committees. We expect continued modest growth in overseas student numbers over the next ten years but this will be for Senate to comment on. We will aim to keep overseas fees broadly in line with our competitors.”

Garner voiced the University’s concern that any more changes might ensue, stating: “With a General Election due by the end of May, however, the situation may change: further reductions in Government funding may follow.”

In response to questions as to the future of the University, Grenville stated: “We will have a better idea in February when HEFCE announces how the grant is distributed across the sector.  Capital funds and the teaching grant will be reduced but research funds will be protected.

“In the medium term, we expect that public funding will remain tight, but that demand from both home and overseas students… will remain strong.”

One comment

  1. “…to at least £5000, there are worries of a reduction in home students that actually possess the financial vaibility necessary to attend University.”

    I agree that budget cuts are a problem that universities should not have to face.

    The above sentence though appears to make out that given a tuition fee increase would-be-students might need to find the £5000 tuition fee up-front. This is not the case.

    Arguments against increases in tuition fees must allow that the capacity to pay these fees up-front is no obstacle in a system which provides loans to cover tuition fees.

    Unless you are arguing that for most home students it is not financially worthwhile to take on such a debt, and will never really gain any reward?

    I only say this because most arguments that I see against the increase of tuition fees rely on some kind of cost-as-an-obstacle argument. And here I mean, of course, ‘initial obstacles’. As I see it this is dangerous because those proponents for any increase can simply point to the loans system and say “there is no obstacle”.

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