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University facing significant pressures, says Acting Vice-Chancellor

Robert Van de Noort

Acting Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort has this morning written to all colleagues about the financial pressures facing the University, and how we intend to deal with these. 

A copy of the message is as follows:

Dear colleagues,

Further to my recent email, I want to remind you about the upcoming briefing sessions:

  • Thursday 1 November (10:30-11:30) – National Grid, Greenlands
  • Monday 5 November (13:00-14:00) – Van Emden Lecture Theatre, Edith Morley, Whiteknights
  • Friday 9 November (13:00-14:00) – L022 (G01), London Road

As I outlined in my recent email, we face some significant pressures in the coming months and years, as do many other universities. These challenges arise out of an increasingly competitive student recruitment environment, the uncertainties of Brexit, the funding review, and increased pension costs. Meeting these demands while maintaining our financial sustainability will inevitably require cost savings.

I know that there are lessons to be learned from how difficult but necessary changes have been handled in the past. One of the key lessons learned is about clear communication without undue delay. That is why I want to be open about the challenges we face from the outset, even if we do not yet have all the answers.

We have enjoyed three years of excellent student recruitment, which provided us with a stable financial basis, and I am grateful to all colleagues who have contributed to this. Although we have slightly grown our student numbers this academic year, we have missed our targets for both undergraduate and postgraduate taught students creating an income loss versus our budget. Some cost savings will need to take place in this academic year, and we will be working with Schools and Functions to get us back on the financial track agreed with our Council. Members of the Planning Group have already communicated with Heads of Schools and Heads of Function about this process.

However, it is the longer term implications of these pressures that concern us most. We are particularly concerned about the pressures on our student recruitment in the context of rapidly expanding competitors and the ongoing nationwide decrease in the number of 18-year olds in the next three years. The consequences will be managed through the normal five-year planning process. This allows Schools and Functions to develop plans that are proportionate to local challenges and to take advantage of possible strategic opportunities. It also ensures consistency of process across the whole University, and the process will be overseen by the Planning Group, the University Executive Board, the Strategy & Finance Committee and, ultimately, Council.   

We will know more when we have analysed the 5-year plans from Schools and Functions after their submission in December. However, on the basis of initial modelling, it is very likely that some Schools and Functions will need to consider reductions in staffing levels. We will develop plans for a severance scheme with the relevant Schools and Functions, and expect to be able to announce the details in January 2019. We can never rule out the possibility of compulsory redundancies but the University will seek to avoid this wherever possible, and in the right circumstances will offer a voluntary severance scheme to assist Schools and Functions to achieve financial balance.

I recognise that we are only at the start of this discussion, so I will use the forthcoming briefing sessions to explain the situation in more detail, to answer your questions as best I can and take on board your views. We will also create a summary of the sessions and some Q&As for those of you who are unable to join us. I encourage you to attend, join the discussion and ask questions. To help us manage capacity, please take a moment to indicate which session you would like to attend using a short online form.

Kind regards


Professor Robert Van de Noort

Acting Vice-Chancellor

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