The Union exists to enrich your life of every UEA student, and we want to be the best students’ union in the country at a University where the student experience is second to none. So we’re delighted that UEA has been voted #1 in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2013, and we like to think the Union’s services and activities have a big role in your UEA life.
But our funding model doesn’t work any more. You may remember the Concrete headline from last year ‘UNION IN CRISIS’ with the greyscale picture of Union House. And you may have seen the front page story of this week’s edition of Concrete about how the Union’s funding is steadily disappearing as revenue from our shops and bars is declining.
Well we are nearly in crisis. Unless the University accept that our funding model doesn’t work anymore and invest in the Union enough funding to keep us going, not only will we be unable to help make your student experience second to none, we won’t be able to maintain the level of services and activities we currently provide; we will have to cut back or make them more expensive, or both.
Over the past three years we have collected thousands of responses from you in our annual student survey, focus groups, social media and talking and listening to you. Back in February, we let you write all over the wall for a week in the Hive to tell us what changes you want to see over the next three years, and what you thought of the exciting stuff we’ve come up with. We got hundreds of ideas from you, and now we’re working out what ideas we can make happen. With our current level of funding, here’s what we can do:
- Get a website that works with support staff to underpin everything we do.
- Employ a Diversity & Inclusivity Co-ordinator to give us the information we need to understand all of our members.
- Start our own lettings agency to generate future funding and provide some of the best student housing in Norwich.
There’s so much more that you have asked us to do. Amongst other things, you want us to:
- create a representation department to help make UEA students true partners in our academic experience;
- create a communications department to help make the Union truly student-led and let you know what’s going on;
- create a training budget to enable students to gain formal qualifications;
- buy new lockers and key storage for clubs and societies;
- create a non-alcoholic space for group study, committee meetings and peer-support groups;
- develop more storage, particularly at Colney Lane, freeing up more bookable space for students in Union House;
- create a loyalty card scheme to give you benefits and discounts;
- create more volunteering opportunities for you to develop transferrable skills;
- pay all staff a living wage;
- fund more sports equipment, more professional coaching, more travel to sports fixtures;
- make Go Global Week the best in the country
- start a cycle loan scheme between campus and Edith Cavell to give students who study there the chance to get on campus at lunch times;
- run bigger campaigns leading to better results;
- create a media hub in Union House with staff to provide in-house training to help more of you get involved with Concrete, Livewire and UEA TV or start up new media projects, and develop your IT skills;
- re-configure the Hive to make it a proper coffee shop
- refurbish the LCR to make it a better club night venue
- create an accessible perfomance space for clubs and societies to book
Every one of these things would make the UEA student experience a lot better, but these will only be dreams whilst we remain under-funded.
So far, by next year we’ll only have changed things that won’t negatively affect your student experience in order to invest in some things that will improve it. Plus, the University have decided to give us £40k to undertake some of the required maintenance work in the Hive and the Waterfront, and they’ll give us an extra £12.5k every year for our website support staff. And as part of the University’s project to make the street better, they’re funding our ‘Megashop’ project to the tune of £460k this year. This is not a small amount of money, and will allow us to generate some more funding for ourselves which we have already budgeted for, so we’re very happy about that.
But this still leaves us in a deficit of £34k, and we’re running out of cash reserves.
This means two things: we can’t improve your student experience over the next three years unless we find some money, and; we’re going to have to cut back on sports, societies and volunteering activities, or make everything more expensive, unless we find some money.
So here’s the bad news…
Unless the University donate enough funding to sustain our activity, next year we may have to do some of these things:
- Put the cost of the SAM card up to somewhere like £70-100;
- Stop funding travel and coaching costs for sport;
- Create a societies membership card which costs at least £5;
- Cut the societies budget, including Concrete’s printing budget;
- Put our prices up in the Hive, bars and shops;
- No longer provide benefits, housing and welfare advice;
- Cut the student staff wage;
- Cut the campaigns budget;
- Put up our transaction fees on booking tickets online.
There are no longer any other realistic options. We’ve already lost a lot of staff, saved money on utilities, generated more footfall in our shops and bars. We don’t have enough resource in communications or representation to cut back on. We will have to cut the things which we do to make your student experience so good.
You might be thinking ‘why should the University give us even more money? Seems like it’s our fault because we just aren’t making enough’.
Well, our funding model is unusual for a students’ union, because many other Unions don’t have commercial services like the ones we have developed over the last few decades – the University donates them the money to run their services because they value them. UEA wants to be consistently in the top 20 of the Guardian league tables, so below is a chart showing where we sit in terms of block grant funding in comparison with Guardian top 20 universities.
We receive about £460k annually, so on average we’re about £650k behind these institutions. We make more money than most, but even with the profit we make combined with the block grant UEA donates, we’re still about £400k behind on total funding available to spend on enriching your student experience. We asked for £320k more on our block grant, and unless they commit to further future funding, they’re set to add just £12.5k onto our annual block grant. £166k every year is required to just maintain our level of service in the future, the rest is to develop the student experience until it is undoubtedly the best in the country, and voted #1 every year.
To put this in context, we are asking for an increase in funding equating to approximately 0.15% of the University’s overall revenue every year to spend on one of the most important elements of your time at UEA, at a time when fees are tripling for home students. That’s just an extra £13.50 from your £9,000 fee to go towards an important part of your student experience.
We want you to know that if we have to cut something, or make it more expensive, it’s not because we want to, it’s because we have to.