By Niamh McGovern
Cuts have dominated the Student Unions Council’s agenda for the past academic year and are likely to be severe across the University and SU, next year.
Yet in 2014 Queen’s University Belfast Foundation more than doubled its income from £6.5 million in 2013 to £14.3 million, £14.3 million against £6.5 million in 2013, according to a report by Howard Lake on www.fundraising.co.uk.
Lake reports that exceptionally large donations came from the Atlantic Philanthropies. This contribution gave £8 million towards medicine, sharing education and improving children’s lives. Donations to the annual alumni fund amounted to £328,000.
Queen’s has unveiled its new Postgraduate Centre this month, offering students a campus centred, state-of-the art study space. The aesthetically celebrated building was funded under capital expenditure, as part of the ongoing refurbishment programme this year. Queen’s state that expenditure for construction processes, which include the Bernard Crossland building and Biological Sciences school is estimated to be £299m.
Meanwhile, support funds for the most vulnerable students are being heavily cut. President Ciarán Gallagher announced at last month’s Council meeting, that the annual £100 bursary will be cut. Currently all students with family incomes not exceeding £34,203 receive this bursary. It provides a source of income for many services across the University campus, including Blackwell’s Bookshop in the SU, PEC membership, and printing services in the McClay Library are among services supported by the Student Experience Bursary, which is deposited onto the recipient’s student card.
The annual £500 Support Bursary will be cut to £380. This bursary had previously been £800 for entry in 2012 and prior to the academic year 2012-2013, £1100. It is given to all students with a family income up to £19,204.
The 2013/14 academic year was recorded as financially successful year for the University, it recorded a total income of £298.4(m?), with a surplus of £14.1m, according to Queen’s annual financial report for 2013/14. Highest income was calculated from government grants and student fee expenses.
Queen’s Cyber Security Centre also announced a £38m expansion investment this March, £9m from its own finance, which is expected to create another 25 jobs, while 1,010 student places will be cut from student admissions, starting next September. For staff, a voluntary retiring incentive will be set up, to allow a reduction of 236 academic and general staff over the coming years.
Both QUB and University of Ulster have announced their annual cuts in response to the Department of Education cuts across the UK. University of Ulster has cut over 50 degrees from its prospectus for the next academic year. QUB Vice-Chancellor Patrick Johnson said “These are really serious times, coming off the back of having already absorbed 16% cuts over the last four years”. The Department of Employment and Learning is set to cut £8m of Queen’s subsidy funding.
In a recent report to Council Gallagher stated that, “It was brought to my attention on 12th March that the Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Project Group were proposing to reduce the Student Cash bursary from £500 to £380 and to remove altogether the Student Experience bursary which is currently £100…thousands of students are granted the bursary which is means assessed and granted to student from families of incomes of £35k or less. The explanation by the university seems to be that DEL had advised cutting the bursary. The thorough reasoning behind this cut is being sought.”
The SU will take a significant hit from the funding cuts, including services which rely on the Experience Bursary for business, including Blackwell’s bookshop, the SU shop and food services within the Union. Gallagher stated, “The removal of the bursary could lead to higher prices and/or the removal of some services on campus.”
First year Mathematics student Lauren Touhey said “The bursary scheme was a great help for textbooks, which tend to be far too expensive for students. A lot of courses, like maths, depend on students to fund their own printing, and most students couldn’t afford all the required printing in the McClay without it. The bursary quite literally allows us the means to study out degrees.”
“In line with this DEL policy decision, and to take account of the substantial cuts in DEL funding, the University will reduce the current bursary for eligible students, entering in 2015-16, from £500 to £380 and discontinue the Student Experience Bursary of £100. These actions will partly mitigate the full impact of the budget cuts on student intakes and, in steady state, protect approximately 380 undergraduate places.