By Kylie Noble, editor
Two student officer positions face the axe due to crippling funding cuts, an email leaked to The Gown has revealed. It is believed to have be sent in the last week of teaching and was sent to all members of the Students’ Union Officer Review Group. It opens by stating that “in common with the University and the Higher Education sector as a whole, the Students’ Union is experiencing serious funding pressures at this time and, as feared, we have recently received confirmation of a reduction in funding to cover the cost of our elected student officers in 2015-2016.”
The email states that “for the next academic year (2015-2016), we will only be funded for five student officers at the current rate of stipend-funding will therefore reduce from £122,500 to £87,500 (i.e. 5 student officers x £17,500). The Officer Review Group has already been made aware of this potential scenario and has been considering appropriate interim recommendations for the next round of student officer elections.” It continues that “The Executive Management Committee (EMC)…agreed that a decision on what is to be done for the Spring 2015 elections needs to be taken urgently, to be fair to those students who have electoral ambitions and are planning accordingly at this time.”
SU Council will next meet in February, only a month prior to elections in March. The email alerts members to an emergency meeting of the Officer Review group, which was held on the last day of term, Friday 19 December. The Gown understands however, that no decision came out of this meeting as a quorum was not reached; not enough members were present.
The Gown can reveal the options QUBSU have proposed to deal with the cuts, which are included in the email: “OPTION 1: Elect the current seven positions and reduce the stipend level to £12,500 per officer. OPTION 2: Do not elect the post of VP Clubs and Societies. Elect the remaining six positions and reduce the stipend level to £14,584 per officer. OPTION 3: Do not elect the posts of VP Clubs and Societies and VP Community. Elect the remaining five positions and maintain the stipend level at £17,500 per officer. OPTION 4: Do not elect the posts of VP Clubs and Societies and VP Equality and Diversity. Elect the remaining five positions and maintain the stipend level at £17,500 per officer. OPTION 5 (amended): Do not elect the post of VP Clubs and Societies. Merge the posts of VP Community and VP Equality and Diversity to create a new ‘VP Community and Equality’ position. Elect this new post and the other remaining four positions and retain the stipend level at £17,500 per officer.”
The SU is also considering that if one or more student officers are axed “part-time unpaid student officer roles may be created to deliver some of the workload (these positions would be elected in May 2015).” It seems possible that these would be unpaid positions; in the past QUBSU used to have several such officers. It closes with “you should note that whilst the above selection of options is not exhaustive, we do not have the option of simply asking the University for more funding…the current task of the Officer Review Group is not to ‘approve’ or justify any funding cuts but, instead, to bring forward a workable interim recommendation for the 2015-16 academic year, within the context of unprecedented financial challenges.”
QUBSU is not independent from the University. This means its budget is determined by the University. Due to cuts from the Department of Employment and Learning of around 10.8%, Queen’s is forced to reduce the amount of funding the SU gets. The current executive led by President Ciarán Gallagher has been vocal and active in opposing the DEL cuts in the form of the #stopDELcuts campaign. An online petition has garnered over 2000 signatures. Gallagher led the first rally held at QUBSU in several years, opposing DEL cuts, on 1 December. It was attended by around 100 students. However, Gallagher has been reluctant to reveal to students the extent of the damage of cuts to the SU.
The strongest indication came at the last Council meeting on 4 December, during a debate on a successful motion to ensure the introduction of a living wage for all SU staff. He commented that whilst he strongly wished to pay all staff the living wage, in the face of cuts he questioned how realistic it may be and warned that the cuts would be severe. Speaking to the Gown, he defended the apparent secrecy surrounding the exact ramifications of the cuts: “The funding issue as a result of DEL cuts is taking its toll on us. This means in order to preserve other important services of the Union, we may only have the full salary for five student officers next year. This budget news reached us very recently and we have had unprecedented little time to come to a decision. Where possible we are seeking the opinions of students on this. It is not a case of us wanting to make such cuts but we may have to.”
QUBSU has seven full time officers who are paid an annual stipend of £17,500 meaning current funding for Student Officers is around £122,500.
We will have more on this story as it develops.