University of Lean-coln: how will cost cutting affect the university?

— Jack Dobson and Shane Croucher contributed to this report.

Up and down the country, everyone appears to be taking steps towards reducing their spending. From schools and hospitals to councils and civil services we’re seeing vast and sometimes ruthless cuts being made in the name of “belt-tightening”.

At the University of Lincoln the situation is no different. With a new academic year and a new budget established, we will witness similar spending snips in an attempt to stay afloat amidst heavy government cuts and a stagnant economy.


Professor Scott Davidson is bracing himself for the potential cuts to the higher education sector. Photo: UoL

The university could potentially face funding cuts of up to 40% over the next four years. On top of this is the VAT rise to 20% in January. This will hit universities hard as they are not allowed to charge VAT on many of the services they provide, meaning they pay it and can’t recoup the costs directly. Only after Lord Browne’s higher education spending review, which will be published on October 20th, will we know what’s going to happen.

Professor Scott Davidson, a deputy vice-chancellor at the university, is uncertain about what may happen.

Speaking to The Linc, Davidson says the university would have to resort to “fairly radical measures” if the worst possible outcome happened. “We would seek to protect the overall student experience and ensure our students see no diminution in the quality of education they receive or the quality of service they get.”

He refused to be drawn on specific plans the university has for each possible scenario. “Until we know exactly what we’re facing, I think it would probably be imprudent to say that we’re going to take particular actions to deal with them.”

Davidson assures that the university’s current expansion projects are safe: “[They’re] all budgeted for and the financial provision is in place…all those plans for building development are going to go ahead.”

Efforts to cut spending already began earlier this year. Bursaries for all but the poorest of students are being abolished after a combined decision made by the university, the SU and the student council. New students who still qualify for the bursaries will see them progressively reduced each year from 2011.

Student reps back in February 2010 were unhappy that students were having to sacrifice valuable financing that is often the difference between red and black bank statements. Joe Hicks, a former student rep and current campaigns officer, attacked the decision, claiming many students he had spoken to believed “cutting staff would be more beneficial than [cutting] bursaries”.

Students already have to fork out for in-course extras like books – which can be expensive – as well as paying to print unit handbooks provided online.

In light of this many students question where their fees are being spent. Last March 68% of students told The Linc that they felt they don’t get value for money from their courses. With cuts being made across the board, it doesn’t appear that it will improve any time soon.

But while efforts are being made to reduce expenditure in most parts of the university, such as a reorganisation of senior roles, the Students’ Union has retained the whole of its fund, which on the last published university accounts in July 2009  totals £388,920. This pays for an array of background staff and the salaries of the four senior SU figures, as well as administrative costs and the money sports teams and societies receive.

However, Davidson says: “The Students’ Union has had to look at ways it can economise…They’re subject to the same budget disciplines as the rest of the university is subject to, so they’ve got to present their budget. They have to justify their expenditure and so we’ll be monitoring that.”

One of the ways the university has been looking to increase revenue is is by recruiting more international students. Davidson insists this plan is “looking pretty healthy and is pretty much on target at the moment”.

The University of Lincoln has a lot of back room administrative staff, as well as senior management. When you compare Lincoln with Nottingham Trent University (NTU), you find the senior staffing structure is similar. NTU has around 15,000 more students than Lincoln and is also managing development projects, to the total of £130million.

Some of NTU’s senior staff, notably the pro vice-chancellors, are also heads of departments, unlike at Lincoln. Does Lincoln need such a top-heavy staffing structure, similar to a university of NTU’s larger size, especially considering the ominous funding forecasts?

Davidson said: “We’re a university of about ten thousand students and that’s the size that HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council for England] wants to keep us at. Because of that, we don’t have the benefit of economies of scale that other universities like Nottingham Trent would have, for example, in that although we have half the number of students, we still have the same compliance issues that the larger universities have. We’ve still got to manage the macro environment that HEFCE imposes on us.”

He says that the chance to reduce senior management is “probably quite limited” and that Mary Stuart, the vice-chancellor, has already reviewed the roles.

“There’s quite a lot of unseen stuff. You’d expect administrators to say that anyway [laughs], but there’s an awful lot that goes on in terms of managing relationships with schools, with further education colleges, with a whole range of government organisations, health and safety issues.

“The other thing that we’ve got at Lincoln is that we’re still building…and [people have] got to oversee that…so, as a university, we’re still developing at a pace and there’s a lot of work involved in that too.”

Euan McKinnon, a second-year politics student, says that the university should cut its food facilities: “Hardly anyone uses them, not when you can go down the road and buy dinner for a couple of quid.”

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