Credit: GG Deputy Photography and Illustrations Manager Dorota Dziki (@drawing_dorota)

University continues making a profit despite pandemic

By Jordan Hunter and Holly Jennings

The news of the University’s financial success comes at a time when tensions across the UK are continuing to rise between university institutions and students.

A report of the University of Glasgow’s finances for the 2019/20 academic year shows the University made a profit of £45.7m after taxes and other expenses were calculated. Despite concerns arising about the pandemic affecting the University’s future financial situation, this is an increase of £9.9m from the year prior. Meanwhile, Save the Student found that 25% of students have lost some income due to the impact of coronavirus.

A University spokesperson has confirmed the University projects to collect £7.6m from halls for the academic year 20/21. An earlier projection revealed by a freedom of information request projected £9.3m revenue. In the latter projection, Murano Street Student Village contributed £3.75m of that figure, which was the epicentre of the halls’ outbreak which infected hundreds of students at the beginning of the academic year.

The news of the University’s financial success comes at a time when tensions across the UK are continuing to rise between university institutions and students. Save the Student has estimated that university students in the UK spent nearly £1bn on empty rooms in flats and halls of residence this year. This estimate is based on results from their National Student Accommodation Survey, which found that after taking rent refunds into consideration, students with restricted access to their university accommodation have spent an average of £1,621 this year on unused accommodation. Although only one in 10 students were living at home at the start of the 2020/21 academic year, after the Christmas break, an additional third of students who were living in term-time accommodation moved back home due to government restrictions that required the majority of students to “stay at home”. Consequently, 43% of students have spent three months or less in their university accommodation.

In January, Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, called for intervention from the Scottish government, pushing for a rent-waiver for students. However, the Scottish government rejected the notion on the basis that it is the institutions’ responsibility: “These are judgments that universities and providers have got to make in contact and consultation with their student community, and it’s right and appropriate that that is undertaken.”

The Scottish government similarly responded to a petition earlier this year calling for tuition reimbursements for students affected by the strike and Covid-19 stating: “Universities are autonomous bodies with responsibility for managing their own affairs, and Scottish Ministers cannot therefore intervene in internal matters such as decisions relating to the refunding of tuition fees for international students and those from the rest of the UK.”

A student hardship fund of £20m was created by the Scottish government, available to all students including international, with an additional £10m allocated to universities and colleges for income lost in rent rebates. 

But with the responsibility of refunds handed over to institutions, only 9% of students across the UK have been offered a full rent refund, with 23% offered a partial-refund. The average partial rent discount offered to students was £73 per week. Earlier this year, the University of Glasgow offered students in halls of residence a £50 refund in addition to a rent rebate for one month. 

No support has been directed towards students in privately rented accommodation by the University of Glasgow thus far. Properties with private landlords prove to be the most expensive form of accommodation for students, costing on average £148 per week, an increase of 8.8% from £136 the previous year. Despite this, it remains the top choice amongst students.

Glasgow University students are demanding greater support from the University, with Glasgow University Student Tenant Union (GUSTU) last month launching their campaign “Listen to Students: Cancel Rent!”. The campaign called for the University to cancel rent for students in University-provided accommodation and for the Scottish government to cancel rent for students in private accommodation until students can return for face-to-face teaching. No action has been taken as a result of this campaign. 

The University’s chief operating officer, David Duncan, responded to their emails stating that the University’s “approach to student’s rent is fair” and that a number of GUSTU’s points were “probably best directed to government ministers rather than to the University”.

Students are still awaiting guidance on when they can return to campus with it unlikely that travel will be permitted before the beginning of March. Additional guidance from the Scottish government is hoping to be published shortly. Following the publication of this guidance, the University has stated they will reopen the application process for rent rebates for those in University accommodation.

A University Spokesperson has responded stating: “Accommodation contracts within University-owned residences can be terminated without notice and at no cost for Covid-related reasons. If a student chooses to do this, we refund the rent in full for the period for which they no longer wish to use their accommodation and do not take any revenue as part of this arrangement. This is in addition to the four-week rebate for everyone in University accommodation given last semester and rent rebates from 4 January which are currently being processed. Over the course of this year, we will reinvest more than £4.5 m in our residences on refurbishments. Together with operating costs, such as staffing, we expect to spend more on residences this year than we will recoup in revenue.”


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