Tuition fees should not fund university finance black hole

University development projects must be reigned in to preserve liquidity, whilst student services should not suffer in any financial readjustment

The Finance Strategy, a spending review conducted by the University, has found that there will be an annual funding gap of £4-6 million after the academic year 2012, which the review proposes to be filled with increased contributions from student fee revenues, departmental cost-cutting and ‘efficient use of space’.

The university is often described as a microcosm of society, and it seems this applies for its finances too. After a period of ten years or so of cheap credit and reckless expansion of the financial sector, with the manufacturing and technological sectors being left to rot, the bubble has burst. The emphatically promised but highly spurious ‘efficiency savings’ in the civil service have not materialised or sufficed, and so taxes of the average Brit are being used to furiously plug up the unstoppable fiscal haemorrhage into the porcelain bowl of national debt.

Whereas, in York, after a decade described in the report as the “free cash generation”, with rapid growth in Heslington East whilst the Biology block was left to rot, a combination of ‘efficient use of space’ and the fees of the average student are being used as the financial costive.

This will not do. The University is set to receive a net profit from tuition fee rises, with the increase to £9000 per year not quite offset by government cuts, which should be used solely for student provisions. And by provisions, I don’t mean subsidising YourShop pick’n’mix. I mean important and direct benefits to students, such as smaller seminar groups or more encouraging and extensive YUSU grants. And a few more print credits wouldn’t go amiss either.

The University should be funding its growth plans from business investment, government contributions, and non-student commercial events like conferences. Students’ money should go to students’ services. In the long term, the extensive development may provide a better campus for students, but with a 1.6 per cent drop in applications this year (6.2 per cent in higher fee-paying foreign students) and an uncertain financial climate, the strategy should be consolidation.

They need to sort out capital replacement first, such as renovations to the buildings classed by the University as in “urgent need of repair’” before starting new building works. It is no good creating new colleges and swanky extensions if basic utilities and central departments will require renovation and replacement in the short term.

However, it seems their development strategy is to carry on spreading the campus eastwards until it hits China in an elaborate plan to increase lucrative foreign student applications, leaving behind a trail of decaying buildings, short-changed students, and displaced ducks.

This may or may not be the case, but what is certain is that unless some £6m of funding is sourced from alternative areas, us students will be using our tripled loans to keep the University liquid.

We may be thankful that the University – unlike the country – is not in crisis and has a healthy long-term financial stability with serviceable debts and a strong grounding in capital funding. But in the short term, its growth strategy should be carefully managed to provide direct benefits for students and manageable projects that are funded fairly. As it stands, come 2013, the University finances will be about as liquid as overcooked porridge.

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