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Finance Update

Published: 9th June, 2017

This time last year, the University of Leicester’s ‘Leadership Team’ was forecasting a financial deficit for 2016/17 of £12.2 million. This predicted ‘black hole’ was used as a pretext to inflict 150 or more compulsory redundancies on staff. University of Leicester UCU’s analysis (see Trying to Achieve Excellence by Aiming for the Average) debunked the University Leadership Team’s figures and – along with our petition of ‘no confidence’ in the president and vice-chancellor – the attack on lecturers was quietly dropped.

In his most recent financial update (13 June), Martin Riddleston, the director of finance, is forecasting a surplus of £12.1 million. In other words, the predictions used to justify widespread redundancies were off by £24.3 million – and UCU’s conclusion that the ‘financial crisis’ had been manufactured has been vindicated.

According to the finance director, three issues have contributed to the apparent turnaround in the University’s fortunes: strong student recruitment; ‘very careful management of staff costs and vacancies’; and, some significant donations to the University. It’s obviously nice – albeit somewhat surprising at the present moment – that wealthy donors have chosen our university to benefit from their largesse. The other two issues warrant some discussion.

  1. Stronger-than-expected recruitment was apparent by September 2016 – and at this time UCU pointed out its effect on the university accounts and the ‘necessity’ for sacking staff. But Professor Boyle continued with his attempted restructuring throughout the autumn. It is only now – after many months of uncertainty and stress for many colleagues – that his team has admitted the error of its forecasts.
  2. The benign-sounding ‘careful management of staff costs and vacancies’ conceals some less salubrious details. Although we appear to have halted the ULT’s desired ‘strategic plan’ of mass redundancies, it is continuing to target individual members of staff. Indeed, UCU caseworkers (who support colleagues in such circumstances) are reporting a vastly increased number of management attacks on individual colleagues. The guiding rationale appears to be to ‘manage out underperforming’ academics – and in many of cases the procedures employed by the University are of dubious legality.

Another reason for staff costs being lower than target is especially worrying for the University of Leicester’s long-term future. Anecdotal evidence we have collected across a number of departments suggests that our employer is haemorrhaging staff. Departments that have been affected particularly badly include the School of Business (the result of the forced merger between Management and Economics, whose staff are slated to be ‘warehoused’ a mile off-campus on the Brookfield site) and the School of Sociology, Media and Communications (another product of an unwanted and ill-advised merger). At the same time, it is struggling to recruit: applicants for advertised jobs are typically weak; candidates offered jobs frequently decline; and those who do accept too often change their mind. No surprise: in 2017, informing fellow conference attendees that you work for University of Leicester often elicits a wry head-shakes or a sympathetic smile. In their open letter to the Provost, Human Geographers write of a ‘staffing crisis’.

Despite all this, it seems the ULT wishes to cut staff costs still further, invoking – as it did last summer – the ‘key benchmark’ of staff costs as a proportion of income. UCU asks – as we did last summer – why it is that we pay more than £1.5 million every year for a ‘leadership team’ that seeks to lead simply by following sector averages?