University of Kent under fire for £60 million deficit
Image courtesy of: Tahmid Morshed | InQuire Photography
Financial reports released by the University last year revealed a staggering debt of £60.1 million – 22.5% of it's total income for that year. The document acknowledges that the £60.1 million is “significant”, but traces the cause of such a deficit back to the University’s participation in the 2017 Actual Valuation for the Universities Superannuation Schemes, a scheme which is at the heart of the national dispute opposing the University and College Union (UCU) and the Universities and Colleges Employment Association (UCEA), although the dispute at the University of Kent remains solely on working conditions and pay. The financial report also mentions that £6.7 million accounted for in the financial report can be traced back to the launch of the Kent Voluntary Severance Scheme (KVSS) in April 2019. The scheme, aimed at reducing the number of staff, offers staff the possibility to resign voluntarily and get a severance check in return. So far, 147 members of staff have left the University under this scheme, predicted to reduce the cost of staff in the coming years. Overall, £31.8 million was spent on “capital works” - meaning the renovation and construction of accommodation and academic facilities on campus. For instance, the new School of Economics building is estimated to have cost around £18.8 million, according to information found on the University’s website. The document reporting this financial report was carried to InQuire’s attention by a lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations, citing that he was “extremely concerned at the University’s financial position and the approach that senior management has taken to remedy the situation”. Citing the University’s financial statement, the lecturer mentioned that despite the round of redundancies – similar to KVSS – that staff has seen in the past month, and the new round of redundancies coming in March 2020, Vice-Chancellor Karen Cox has written in an email to all staff at the University that £5.3 million still need to be saved for this financial year. In conversation with staff taking part in the recent wave of national strikes at the University of Kent, InQuire brought up this £60.1 million figure. A senior lecturer in the School of Law said: “The University’s response to their deficit is to cut our jobs. Our response is: don’t cut jobs. There are ways that you can save money. There are ways that the University has been pouring money into, apparently, a new tennis court that cost £4 million. Hang on a minute, if you’re talking deficit, don’t pour money into stuff.” A professor in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SPSSR) also mentioned the University’s deficit and the possibility of coming action. “I think you can expect that we will take action. The purpose of a union is to defend the jobs and working conditions of its members. It doesn’t exist for anything else. We have to take a stance.” During the conversation, grievances also came up regarding the distribution of pay – at the heart of the University of Kent’s wave of strikes, along with working conditions – and especially the difference between the pay of staff and of senior management staff. The senior lecturer in Law we talked to told us: “Every single employee in this institution believes that the vice-chancellor’s pay is iniquitous. Do you know that the head of the Home Office who just resigned [Sir Philip Rutnam] was paid around £170,000 [when Rutnam was a Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport, he was paid between £170,000 and £174,000 as of 2015]? That’s £100,000 less than our vice-chancellor. Our vice-chancellor’s pay is £277,000. If you look at universities’ vice-chancellor pay across the United Kingdom, this is around mid-range. I don’t want this to become finger-pointing at one individual. What we’re saying is: the executive group gets paid far too much by comparison to the staff.” Salaries for lecturers in Higher Education in the United Kingdom typically range from around £35,000 to £43,000 a year. For senior lecturers, that amount goes up from around £43,000 to £58,000. The lowest range of salary for senior staff pay, according to the financial report, ranges from £100,000 to £104,999, with eleven members of senior staff benefiting from this pay, to the highest range from £240,000 to £244,999, with one person benefiting from this range.
The financial report document stated that the Vice-Chancellor and President’s basic salary in 2018/2019 amounted to “7.45 times the median basic salary of all substantive staff”, compared to 7.44 times for the financial year 2017/2018. The document justifies the Vice-Chancellor’s pay by stating: “The reward package reflects the role holder’s impressive previous track record at a successful Russell Group University [the University of Nottingham] and the salary that was offered on joining the University. The figure is, though, less than both the median and the mean salaries of VCs at peer group universities. The Vice-Chancellor and President’s salary was reviewed in January 2019 at which time the Remuneration Committee acceded to her request that, in light of the current economic climate, no pay award be made.”