Update on University finances

Update on University finances

Dear Colleagues,

I’m pleased to report that I’m increasingly confident that we’ll meet the Court-endorsed budget targets of a deficit of up to £12m in the current academic year, a deficit of up to £6m in 2024/25 and a return to break-even in 2025/26.  As a reminder, this means that Court has given in-principle leeway for us to spend 4% more than we’re earning this year and 2% next year.

I’m grateful to everyone in the University for working hard to increase revenue and reduce costs so that these targets can be met.

I used the term ‘pleased’ in the first sentence above with very mixed emotions.  On the one hand, the achievement of financial sustainability is fundamental and essential to our core purpose of high-quality education and research that make a positive difference to our students and to the communities and organisations around us. On the other hand, the current financial circumstances of the higher education sector in the UK throw into temporary reverse the impressive growth in revenue that our University community has achieved in the last five years.

Our financial context continues to be turbulent and uncertain, with countervailing movements ebbing and flowing from week to week.

On the revenue side, over 330 Postgraduate Taught Students have joined us this January, a figure above our revised target of 300 that took into account sector-wide predictions of a decline in the January intake of 50-70%. Following the 31 January UCAS deadline for undergraduate applications, our UG Scottish applications are up by over 4%, which gives us a good basis to recruit strongly at undergraduate level this coming September. Although we were pleased to hear from the Scottish Funding Council this week that the University is to receive an additional £374k this year for research, we are deeply disappointed that sector-wide funding for Scottish undergraduates will fall by 6% In 2024/25. We wait to hear what our share of this reduction will be.

We must continue to generate extra income from all sources beyond tuition fees from students coming to Aberdeen to study. This includes research (which now amounts to more than £55m each year) transnational education through our overseas partnerships (nearly £5m this year), online education which earns more than £7m a year, and philanthropy which in 2023 alone contributed over £7m to support the work of the University. We are committed to continuing our strategy of growing and diversifying our revenue across all these areas.

On the cost side, we continue to apply downward pressure on our non-staff costs with an expectation that we offset the inflationary increases expected in 2024/25 and maintain operating costs at the same level as 2023/24.  Each School and Directorate has been allocated a share of the operating saving target of £7.7m.

We also, sadly and regrettably, need to reduce our staff costs. None of the options to achieve this are appealing because in the short term, like many other universities in the UK, we’ll be operating with fewer staff as a direct result of cuts in public funding and constraints on international student recruitment. Nevertheless, financial sustainability is indispensable to the success of the University so I am grateful to colleagues who have registered an interest in the Enhanced Early Retirement or Voluntary Severance. If this suits your needs and plans we invite you to register your interest without commitment by this Friday, 16 February. The next stage after registering interest is to make a formal application. A number of formal applications have already been approved and you are encouraged to make your formal application as soon as you are ready to do so.

The financial support for the enhanced retirement scheme and voluntary severance, the continuing staff recruitment freeze, the operational savings, and the rigorous strategic drive to generate extra income across the full range of sources all show that we are doing absolutely everything possible to prevent compulsory redundancies.

This is a challenging time for all of us - collectively and individually, intellectually and emotionally. I wish to express my deep thanks for the important contribution each of you is making towards our financial recovery. Your efforts are crucial to allow the University to thrive and must be achieved in a way that reduces cost, generates extra revenue, protects our existing strengths, and provides opportunities to enhance our academic performance.

I’ll provide a further update after Court reviews our progress towards financial sustainability at its meeting on 28 February.

Best wishes

George 

 

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