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SU may go bust “in a few years”

Uea(su) will go bust “in a few years” without more funding from UEA, the chair of the SU’s Finance Committee has said. 

Alicia Perez, who is also Uea(su)’s activities and opportunities officer said: “It is definitely a situation that we need to turn around if we don’t want the SU to go kaput.”

Another elected member of the SU, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect their role, said Uea(su) has “two years… maybe three” before it goes bust.

But the university said the SU was “integral” and that they meet with Union officials “regularly” to discuss Uea(su)’s financial situation.

Uea(su) are stuck between relying on income from alcohol-heavy student nights out in the bars and the LCR, while balancing attempts to move away from a binge drinking culture.

Perez said: “We’re quite behind at the moment and we’re trying to look at ways we can improve. The problem is we rely on bars, the LCR,  and the [SU] Shop to make money and we can’t keep pushing the bars and the LCR at the same time that we try to promote a healthy night out and alcohol awareness and all that. We want to maintain a balance – we want people to drink responsibly but also realistically we do need people to go out. But there is a trend of students that are not going out as much as they used to ten years ago so we are definitely seeing that as an impact in our venues.”

She added: “In the past more students would mean more people going out, more people going drinking but that trend is going down and our capacity is at the top. We can’t let any more people in the LCR.”

“We’re not just trying to make money,” said Perez. “We’re trying to improve the student experience and we don’t have the money to do it at the moment.”

She said: “With the increase of students we can’t let any more people in, our outlets are maximised, we can’t do any more but we still haven’t got any more money from the university for the amount of student increase that we’ve had even though that means we’re providing more services because there’s more students.”

With societies potentially on the chopping block Perez said if the situation remains the same Uea(su) will have to consider which services they can legally cut.

“There’s definitely not a necessity for us to run 250 societies,” Perez said.

But Perez hopes the situation will improve. “I don’t want students to not have clubs and societies in the future, or to not have the LCR in the future,” she said. And she believes cuts would lead to a worsening of the student experience.

Uea(su) is asking the university for extra annual funding of £350,000 to survive, and another £700,000 in addition to be able to provide more services for students.

Perez said: “The main problem is the reserves, because we keep going into our reserves and in charity law you’re obligated to have a minimum amount. So the problem is if we get close enough to that amount or if we go under that amount then we’re in trouble. At the moment we’re okay, but if we keep getting into our reserves every year then that becomes a problem.”

Uea(su)’s expenditure in the first quarter was £77,000. Their budget for the 2019/20 year is £177,000.

Although the university provided Uea(su) with £1.4m for this academic year, the SU pays around £700,000 to rent Union House.

In comparison:

  • In 2019 the University of Bristol provided Bristol SU with close to £1.8m. They provided a building free of rent charges. The true value of rent would usually be around £400,000 per year.
  • In 2018 Reading University Students Union (RUSU) received more than £1.6m from their university. RUSU pays £100 per year for their facilities.The true value of rent would usually be around £675,000 per year.
  • The University of Warwick’s Student Union received a grant over close to £3m from their university in 2018. They paid £437,000 in rent for their buildings and land.

UEA has a legal obligation to have a student union.

A spokesperson for Uea(su) said: “This year, we also got an additional £100,000 of grant for wellbeing projects, pending a formal review of the future funding position.

“It is important to note that around 75% of the SU’s funding comes from our own outlets’ revenue. This is a unique funding model in the sector with most unions operating the reverse.”

The spokesperson added: “The financial position of the SU is stable with adequate cash and reserves to operate. However additional funding is required to provide the existing level of services and avoid eating into reserves, which are there to shelter against unexpected events rather than support budget deficits.”

Perez said: “The university is working with us and realising that we are struggling financially and that if we want to keep a position where we can provide services to students they need to improve our funding a bit”.

Ian Callaghan, Chief Resource Officer at UEA said: “The Students’ Union is an integral part of the student experience at UEA, as it is for the vast majority of higher education providers and UEA works closely with Uea(su). The University has a range of obligations in respect of Students Unions under the 1994 Education Act, including monitoring the financial affairs and, therefore UEA Executive Team meets regularly with  Uea(su) to discuss their financial position and any requests for funding are considered alongside all other requests for support.”

11/02/2020

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Chris Matthews Bryan Mfhaladi Jack Oxford