As a member of the University Finance Committee, the past few weeks I have been lobbying the university for greater financial transparency which better explains the position we have taken regarding rent rebates and tuition fees, along with giving more clarity to students about the financial position of the university. This isn’t a post to defend the university by any means, rather giving you the resources to make your opinions on the matter. The officers and I are in agreement that students deserve more, and we continue to fight for your concerns.
This ongoing pandemic continues to add more and more financial pressures on university institutions, and very limited help from the government means there is little wiggle room for showing compensation to students and recognising the hardship you have been through this year. For the accounts for 2020/21, there was due to be a controlled deficit of £3m, controlled because this is money which is being invested in developments around the university. However, then came along covid, which subsequently slammed this deficit to £18.8m (a £15.8m fall from the budgeted position). Risk mitigation instantly stepped in with pay increment freezes for staff, pay-cuts for senior managers and the executive team, and furloughing.
In the year 2019/20:
The approved deficit for 2019/20 was almost achieved (£13.8m deficit as opposed to a forecast of £13.3m), although it should be noted that the uni lost £10m in income to rents and commercial activities, which was then mitigated by:
- recruitment/post freeze and furlough
- focus on essential non-pay spend only from March through to the end of July.
In the year 2020/21:
Initially the forecasted deficit for 2020/21 was £22.6m, this then improved to a deficit of £12.5m which was presented to council and approved in November 2020. This change in deficit figures is down to an upside on admissions compared to a worst-case scenario forecast.
The impact of the current rent rebate offered is expected to cost the University c£5m and in addition there are further impacts forecast on commercial services of £1.3m, relating mostly to the Sportspark closure. This increases the forecast deficit to £18.8m.
- Whilst several mitigations have been put in place to safeguard the University finances and resource, investments have been required in order to operate the campus in a COVID environment. As part of the budget process a COVID response budget of £4m was created. As at the end of December 2020, ~£3.4m has been committed to spending related to COVID which is around 85% of the total budget (£4m).
- This COVID response budget includes things like University Safety Services, greater funding of student support services, face masks, running the Norwich Testing Initiative for COVID tests, making teaching spaces COVID secure, outdoor spaces, winter break provision, resources for IT support and helpdesk, marketing and communication, and welcome week and SU initiatives.
Just a message to clear up some other areas where some questions have been raised (and rightfully so) around developments which are still in progress despite the University's financial situation: a particular one being the continuation of Productivity East, an engineering facility. This is openly advertised as a £7.4m project, however it should be noted that this is included within the UEA’s financial plan and is 100% cash flowed by a grant of £4.5m, awarded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership for Norfolk and Suffolk. This is government funding, and the nature of it means that there is a tight time frame for the grant money to be used otherwise the money is lost, hence why this development is still going ahead. However, you may ask where is this extra £2.9m is coming from to complete the £7.4m its supposedly costing. These are in-kind contributions. As this is a redevelopment project in the Lasdun Wall (where the old bio labs used to be), the £2.9m reflects the provision of space within the current footprint of buildings, so no financial investment is needed from the university.