Fraser Collingham: “What do we want our money spent on?”

Our university is currently facing a great deal of criticism from its students in response to its financial decisions.

Each year, the University of Nottingham makes a profit over £20m. Last year, it made £25m. The year before it was the same. It seeks to increase this to at least £30m in the coming years. Students would be easily forgiven for failing to comprehend this vast amount of money, as many currently struggle to make ends meet.

The university prides itself upon being a charitable organisation and indeed does make valuable efforts to assist the wider community. However, our university is beginning to look like a profit driven company. Next year’s intake of students will pay £9,250 in annual tuition fees. How can the university justify this when its profits are reaching dizzying heights? The rise in fees takes place in the midst of many questionable financial decisions.

The University has made at least 12 redundancies in the Faculty of Arts. The school of Chinese Contemporary Studies has been entirely closed down. Modern Languages has also been affected: back in March, the University Council of Modern Languages wrote to Sir David Greenaway, saying they found the ‘declared rationale [for this] extreme course of action highly questionable.’ The redundancies were planned to make way for ‘ambitious building plans.’ I think most students would agree that we value staff and teaching over buildings.

“They want to be more efficient by putting everything in one place”

Professor Jeremy Gregory, the new Pro Vice Chancellor, replied on behalf of Sir Greenaway, saying that the university has had to make difficult decisions in reaction to ‘changing patterns in student demand’ to ‘create a sustainable situation for the future.’ He also pointed out that since 2007 at least 11 UK universities have closed down Language courses entirely. These decisions are controversial when Sir Greenaway was paid a total of £381,000 last year.

You may have heard of Project Transform, but it seems no one is entirely sure what it actually is. It appears that it is the university’s name for their centralisation strategy. They want to be more efficient by putting everything in one place. Unfortunately for us, we are no longer taught in one place. This year, centralising the timetabling system has resulted in all of my classes taking place outside of the law building, in various locations across the campus. It is my understanding that similar chaos has affected other subjects too.

Project Transform has also materialised largely in the form of student service centres. This has caused movements in staff, delays and confusion for students. We now have to hand in our coursework to the centres, and have to ask questions about our faculty to people who don’t know anything about the subject. It is unclear why Project Transform was implemented in the first place.

The University of Nottingham University and College Union were aware in 2015 that Project Transform was causing ‘considerable anxiety to members of staff across the University.’ It seems that these fears were justified, given the redundancies and current chaos. There are currently multiple live petitions opposing project transform. For previous reports on student protests see this article:

“But what do we want our money spent on?”

What else have the university spent money on? It has taken an entire semester to put up a giant TV outside the front of the Portland building. This is ridiculous and unnecessary. Money would be better used by paying for our textbooks, or lowering our fees. An outdoor ‘area’ has also been built next to the New Theatre.

I haven’t seen the table tennis table used once, nor have I seen a single student sit on one of the cold, hard slabs. We can only hope that this project was not expensive. One of the best things about UoN is its stunning campus. We don’t want this to be ruined.

One beneficial investment the university has been successful in is the new David Ross Sports Village. The flagship facility cost £40m, the cost of which was supported by Ross himself. Featuring a hydrotherapy pool and anti-gravity treadmills, this is an example of how the university can spend money to benefit students and stand out amongst its competitors. The new café within the village will be run by Sodexo, who recently won a ten year catering contract worth £5m. The only downside to the Village is the crippling membership costs for students, currently standing at around £200 for the year.

Another worthwhile project is George Green Library. Now that it is fully operational, it runs smoothly, providing science students with a modern space to work on campus. But what do we want our money spent on? Students do want good facilities – the little things like plug sockets in lecture theatres, fast and reliable Wi-Fi across campus and seats in libraries and cafes.

These make our daily lives more convenient. Improvements have been made in these areas recently, but we still aren’t sure where the millions of pounds of surplus the university generates annually is actually going.

Nottingham does a lot of things well, and there is no doubting that it is among the best universities in the UK. However, it’s starting to look a lot less like a charitable educational institution, and a lot more like a private multinational corporation. If that’s the way it has to be, then it is vital that it treats its staff as its most valuable asset, and provides first class value for money to its students. To achieve this, it needs to go back to the drawing board.

Fraser Collingham

Image: Arran Bee via Flickr

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