The University of Sussex is moving ahead with a £29 million project to replace older teaching buildings on campus. This is despite the backdrop of cuts of £5 million being made to teaching, staff, and student support budgets over the next two years.
The huge expenditure on the new buildings is possible at a time when all areas of academic life at the university are facing cuts because of the way in which the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) allocates its funding to universities.
The HEFCE gives universities separate infrastructure grants for new buildings on top of money allocated for teaching and research. This money allocated for renovations cannot be spent on improving the teaching at the university, or supporting other vital services around campus.
As such, the deficit in the university’s budget is being made-up elsewhere, with £5 million being cut from front-line academic areas over two years. According to management figures this would result in 119 redundancies across campus, or around 1 in twenty staff at the university losing their jobs.
Redundancies are planned for the schools of Life Sciences, Informatics, Engineering and Design, English, History, Art History, Philosophy and Modern Languages.
In addition, management will close the university’s sexual health advice centre; cut the number of student advisors from fifteen to 4 and end all university funding for the crèche and nursery service on campus, which may result in the crèche’s closure. The decision follows an email to all students last term in which Vice-Chancellor, Michael Farthing, hit out against the idea of spending the university’s budget on such services. He said: “we must ensure that we do not use public funds to subsidise services.”
Local newspaper, The Argus, reported a spokesperson for the university as saying that the money for the building project was ring-fenced and separate from teaching budgets. However, according to the minutes of Council, the University’s highest governing body, the records of hich are available on Sussex Direct, the university is also topping up HEFCE’s infrastructure grant for the project by taking out millions of pounds worth of commercial bank loans. The university will incur an ongoing financial burden from repaying these loans, which amounts to about £70,000 per year for every school of study at the university – about the cost of hiring one and a half members of faculty for each and every school. Anti-cuts campaigners are calling for this money to be redirected into eaching. A member of Sussex Stop The Cuts commented that the loans were “a slap in the face” to staff who would be losing their jobs and to students whose courses and services would be cut.
The Stop the Cuts campaigner continued: “The fact that management are willing to top up a substantial grant with expensive bank loans in order to build a building to replace one that they want to knock down shows where their priorities lie – and it isn’t with education. They’re willing to spent millions of pounds on shiny new buildings, but when it comes to funding our academic priorities they claim that they’re broke.” While the money for the new teaching building was ring-fenced, he university has spent its own cash reserves and loans on other controversial building projects. Money for new accommodation blocks must be raised through loans and repaid via rental income. The last three years have seen the completion of the new university-owned residences at Swanborough and Stanmer, with plans already being laid for a huge new complex at North Field.
One member of staff commented: “In my view, we do need the new academic building: Arts D and E are in very poor state for 30 year old buildings and if we want Business and Management to succeed we will need suitable space to house it. What I question is the relative worth of the other expenditure. We can only spend reserves once, HEFCE capital will be cut and we are near the top of our borrowing limit. Are we really spending money on the right things?”
The new teaching building would be built on the site currently occupied by the Arts D and E buildings, as well as the Russell Building, which would all be demolished to make space for the new development. Construction is scheduled to start mid-2010 and the building would be ready by 2013 if all goes according to plan, with the final design incorporating “a mix of teaching and learning space, academic space, plus a large lecture theatre.”
The proposed construction of this new as-yet-unnamed teaching building should not be confused with the already-under-construction Fulton Building being erected alongside the Swanborough residences. This building is scheduled to be ready for mid-2010 and will cost the university £10 million.