University surplus surges as staff brace for cutbacks

(First published: 09.02.11)

Nick Sikora

Details of management funding plans, understood by the Guardian in advance of their anticipated February 11 publication, reveal dramatic reductions to outgoings while university income grows.

The upcoming ‘Cost Reduction Plan’, which will aim to slash university expenditure, is expected to highlight increasing staff costs cuts and see a number of University courses axed.

The information, which is not due to be released to the public until later this month, suggests that Senior Management will maintain its intention to make total annual savings of £20million while increasing revenue by £15million elsewhere, a plan that was initially drawn up to save the University from insolvency in the face of predicted cuts by the Scottish Government.

It is hoped that these measures will now also give the institution an operating surplus, as the 6.7% reduction to university subsidies from the Scottish Government have not yet risen to the 20-25% many industry leaders had feared.

Several cost-cutting measures are already being rolled out across the university, with staff being invited to take part in a new Volunteer Severance/Early Retirement (VSER) scheme in the hope of encouraging those staff reaching the end of their career into early redundancy. Staff costs currently account for 55% of all University spend, a figure that the Cost Reduction Plan seeks to address.

An email mistakenly sent out by Senior Management to members of the University Senate in May 2010 outlined draft proposals collectively termed the ‘Strategic Investment Plan’, which mentions closure of a number of under-performing courses. The document listed several categories of course, preliminarily termed ‘platinum’, ‘gold’, ‘silver’ and ‘bronze’, which would outline the importance of their continued funding to the university.

‘Bronze’ courses, which were speculated to include subjects such as nursing and a number of modern languages, were to face the axe.

It was subsequently announced following the accidental circulation that the Strategic Investment Plan had been rejected by Senior Management, but many of the strategies it had discussed are expected to resurface in the upcoming Cost Reduction Plan.

Publication of the announcement comes as the university also prepares to reveal a current annual operating surplus that builds on the previous year’s figures. In the financial year ending 2010, the University had a surplus in excess of £7.3million, and costcutting measures already in place are to allow the university to improve on this for the year ending 2011.

Student’s Representative Council (SRC) President, Tommy Gore, was keen to stress the SRC’s intention to minimize any impact on students the cutbacks may have.

He said: “The SRC are obviously extremely concerned with some of the rumours that are currently flying about; however, it would be inappropriate to comment in more detail before we know what is laid out in the Cost Reduction Plan.

“Students can be assured that we will be fighting hard to ensure that the impact of the Cost Reduction Plan is minimised as far as possible.”

Other formative plans to reduce University expenditure include boosting site utilisation, which a recent report placed at just 20%, in an effort to increase efficiency and reduce wasted expenditure on energy and heating.

The future of Glasgow University’s balance sheets have been the subject of much speculation following Principal Anton Muscatelli’s controversial email to staff last September, in which he claimed that the university faced bankruptcy within three years unless ‘corrective action’ was taken.

Increased investment in facilities is an ongoing aim at the University, and is expected to continue despite cost-cutting aims. Recent years have seen long-term plans to replace ageing and inefficient buildings, such as Social Science’s Adam Smith Building and the Engineering Department’s Rankine Building, whilst a £10million purchase was put in place to obtain and develop the neighbouring Western Infirmary site when it closes in 2013.

The University Library is also planned to undergo future renovation, following on from the successful conversion of library’s Level 3. A £3million project has been put in place to deal with corrosion of the building’s façade.

Further details of the University’s costcutting measures will be available when the plan is released in full later this month.


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