Our Student Experience is #1. But For How Long?

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:

  1. Get a website that works with support staff to underpin everything we do.
  2. Employ a Diversity & Inclusivity Co-ordinator to give us the information we need to understand all of our members.
  3. 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.

block grant graph higher res

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.

block grant per head

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.

If you’ve got any comments about this article, let us know via Facebook and Twitter or in the comments section below!


21 thoughts on “Our Student Experience is #1. But For How Long?

  1. Last I saw, the Campaigns Budget was a huge drain on Union funds. Does it actually achieve anything?
    Things like busses to london for demonstrations, realistically do not improve the experience of the average student experience at UEA.

    Similarly, I’d be curious to know how much is spent on NUS membership? Southampton Uni left NUS because they could do more for students by re-investing that expenditure into the Union itself. Something to think about.

    • Hi Peter. The campaigns budget is only £5000 and we rarely spend all of it, so it’s not a drain on funding particularly. More importantly, our campaigns do have a positive impact on the lives of current students and future students, and that’s what we’re here for. Buses to demonstrations allow our students to be part of a national movement dedicated to influencing governmental policy. Campus campaigns won all students exam feedback this year, amongst other things.

      Our NUS affiliation costs us just over £20k, but one of the best things about affiliating with NUS as a commercial Union is the discount we get on purchasing through their commercial arm. These savings are approximately £80-100k, and we are also looking at external trading to add increased revenue and we need to be affiliated to make this possible, as these savings will allow us to purchase stock at one of if not the cheapest prices in Europe. Hope this makes sense.

  2. Very informative article and understandable that cuts need to be made. However if the University wants to keep it’s #1 Student experience rating (which will inevitably bring in more students from increased awareness), they have to increase their commitment to the Union services.
    If cuts are to be made then this will negatively impact on the student experience. People don’t like change, particularly when it’s taking away their valued services.

  3. Seems a bit ridiculous to expect to put up the cost of SAM membership AND cut funding to sports when they would be putting in more money from increased SAM membership?

    • Unfortunately there aren’t many other options. We are trying to seek alternative revenue streams, but if we continue to run up a deficit every year we will have to start making cuts and making things more expensive otherwise we will run out of cash reserves entirely and become bankrupt. Then there would be no Union at all. So these cuts to sport are dependent on the University’s donation. What would you prefer to see cut, if we have to?

      • I do not really know the best area to make cuts as I am sure people involved in each will be able to argue their side. It just seems that student sports were the area that look like they’re really going to suffer under the possible changes.

        I understand that the union do put a lot money into sports and I am sure that everyone involved in sports is extremely greatful. However putting up the price of SAM AND proposing to cut funding for sports seems extremely detrimental to something that for many makes the student experience what it is. Being involved in a sports team has made my student experience as good as it has been which I’m sure has been the case for many other students. Being on the committee of one of the clubs I know we lost potential members due to the fact that people thought SAM membership was too expensive this year. If the price doubles next year we could well lose a lot of members. People will not want to pay to join the sports clubs that can make student experience so great.
        If SAM membership rose to £100 and funding cut, it would be cheaper for many of our members to join a local club and miss out on an integral part of student experience. Membership fees is where our club would potentially be able to find money to pay for coaching if the union were to cut funding for coaches, however if SAM membership is too high we would not get enough members to make this viable.
        If you are planning to cut funding for sports clubs then maybe you should think about allowing sports clubs to enter competitions such as the RBS ESSA, I am aware that the union is supposed to be boycotting RBS but if this scheme is able to help fund sports clubs in a way that the union can’t then clubs should be allowed to enter for the chance to gain extra funding wherever they can.

        Please don’t make cuts to such a huge part of student experience.

  4. The people who want to get more out of our Union actively seek it and work for it. The bulk majority of students, however, are happy with their lot (take a look at the Union election turnout, the awareness of the Union Awards – a pathetic excuse for the Union officers to pat their buddies on the back and no one else).
    Campaigns are rarely supported by the student mass as they’re run by eco-left-wingers, and as much as their opinion is perfectly valid, it doesn’t reflect all of us. The idea of increasing funding on those campaigns is not viable.
    Time and time again, the student mass ask for something that affects all of us – our graduation. Legions of students have begged for somewhere more fitting to graduate than a former sports hall, why is nothing ever done about this? Or at least, why are we not given an explanation for why this hasn’t changed?
    I have been involved in six societies and have thoroughly made the most of my three years here, but that has only been through seeking opportunities myself. If I want more funding for my society I will contact councils, national bodies, all sorts, to get what I want. I’d love for the University to give me more support for this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to not receive it. People feel entitled to receive more than they work for.
    Finally, please do not raise SAM. I know of many people who refused to do sport this year or fraudulently played under the radar until were caught. Our sports clubs are an integral part of our student experience. People will simply not join the teams that make our uni so great and will miss out. Make us pay for trips if you will, but take a look at Bath Uni. Their Ju-Jitsu team don’t receive any funding, just a dojo to train in. They were the most successful in the country in 2011, but they struggle to attract members because it is just so expensive (over £30). Poor students should not be excluded from joining the very things that will expand their opportunities and enrich their lives.

    • I’m sorry you feel that way about the Union Awards. The nominations were made by the general student population, not by Union Officers, so it’s not really true that officers pat their buddies on the back.

      This year’s campaigns were chosen by the student body in general. We had 16,500 responses to our priority campaigns poll this year, of which nearly 6000 votes were for exam feedback. We actually did not hear even a small number of students call for a change to graduation this year, which was slightly surprising but actually the feedback we’ve had over the years from those who have graduated through Congregation Hall is rarely negative, it’s actually a pretty nice day. The feedback we heard from the university in the past is that it’s just too expensive to change and they’ve not known of any complaints on or after the day, so it wouldn’t be worth the money. This year you are the first person who has asked us to explain this. Exam feedback, however, does affect nearly every student, and a large number of students asked for it.

      Our societies budget this year increased from £5k to about £20k, and £12k of that did come from external, ring-fenced funding from the sources you are describing. We helped societies access this funding this year, but they spent all of it so there is a demand for more funding for societies.

      About SAM we could not agree with you more on every point! We don’t want to do it, but if we run out of money we’ll have to spend less or raise more ourselves, and this is one of those options. We’re seeking alternative revenue streams, but if there aren’t any realistic, significant new revenue streams preventing themselves and if the University don’t increase the block grant then we will have to do things like this sadly.

  5. We are Paying £9000 a year in fees so surely more of the money we pay should go towards making the uni experience the best it could posibly be

    • The University gets the same amount for the new students on £9000 a year as it does for those on the old fees. Its just a higher proportion comes from the Student Loans Company rather than a government grant.

      • Not exactly true, in some universities it’s worse, in some it’s better, depending on the balance of subjects, but ultimately all funding models for universities are now much more dependent on admissions. But ultimately this means that the funding is coming from students rather than general taxation.

  6. To be honest, I feel there is a risk in relying too much on the university’s patronage. I am graduating soon so this doesn’t really impact on me, but if I were still to be a student next year and had a major issue with the university I would like to know that there is a Union that could fight my corner rather than being worried that the battle might impact on its lobby for an increased grant.

    • Hi Harry, I don’t know that we are worried about a battle with anybody? We’re still talking to the University about our future. If the University cannot commit to ensuring the future of the Union during our discussions then we will support students in campaigning for it in other ways.

  7. I understand that the union is in need of making improving its financial position, but surely increasing S.A.M. to that extent is only going to kill off the smaller and more unique sports clubs? I can’t see how loosing these clubs would benefit the uni.

  8. Well UEA hardly imposed the cuts on university budgets did they? Blame those students who voted Lib Dem and Tory. UEA’s budget is cut so the student union is cut too. Paying for open days and prospectuses has to be more important than cheap booze.

    • We do understand that it’s hard times for all universities following austerity measures, and that it’s likely that austerity measures are likely to be further put in place for higher education after the next general election. But UEA has been allocating funding to a variety of projects and departments, and we feel that we play an important role in students’ time at UEA so the relatively small sum we’re requesting should be something that they choose to allocate.

  9. Home students and EU students pay 9k a year and international students pay 15k a year. As an international student, I don’t think I get any extra support or whatsoever even though I pay about 6k more than local students (some students might get something, but I have my doubt that it will cost 6k a year per person). So, I think uni should use that much money on things to improve student experience.

  10. It’s not so big amount even extra £20 to Union from the tuition fee. I hope university is aware that dissatisfied students can easily joint another university in terrible situation. I expect that university respects students.

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