The Students’ Association launched a withering attack on the University after it revealed plans to offset Scottish higher education budget cuts by increasing student numbers.
The SNP plans to cut the higher education (HE) funding budget by £21.5 million from August 2015, resulting in an annual £2 million loss for the University.
The minutes of the University Court meeting held on 23 January 2015 state that St Andrews plans to address this reduction in funds with “a moderate, controlled growth in student numbers (largely those from overseas domiciles.)
“A carefully-controlled increase in the student population over the next decade would help to provide the income required to develop new academic initiatives.”
In addition, the Court minutes suggest that this would cause a reduction in the number of teachers to students, “to align with the Russell Group average, whilst protecting the small-group teaching that is an important part of the St Andrews student experience.”[pullquote]St Andrews plans to address this reduction in funds with “a moderate, controlled growth in student numbers[/pullquote]
The minutes of the most recent meeting of the academic council on 10 December 2014 state that: “Many peer institutions are cutting academic staff in order to improve their financial standing, given that domestic student growth is expected to remain flat.”
They go on to say that as St Andrews has the “virtue of strong overseas student demand,” it does not face the same problem of a plateau in student numbers.
At the same meeting the deputy principal of the University, Professor Garry Taylor, confirmed that the strategic plan for the University over the next decade will include the identification of areas for potential growth, which will lead to an increase in the student population, particularly in postgraduate numbers.
The Students’ Representative Council (SRC) condemned the proposals and passed a motion to “protect the student experience” at their meeting on Tuesday 10 February.
The motion stated that “the current accommodation portfolio, provision of study space and other services… are insufficient to cater for the present number of students” and that any growth in the student population would have a highly detrimental effect on the student experience in St Andrews.
Charlotte Potter, Arts and Divinity faculty president, described the plans as “disgusting” and “pathetic” whilst debating the motion, as the University would be using these extra students simply for their money.
The SRC resolved “to oppose any increase in student numbers until adequate provision of resources and services is made for the present population and pressures on these areas reduced.”
The SRC called on the University to ensure that any rise in student population was accompanied by an increase in resources. They promised to push the University to make these points key elements of their strategic plan.
Pat Mathewson, Students’ Association president, said that he and the University’s deputy principal “did not see eye to eye” about taking these concerns “seriously.”[pullquote]If you harm the student experience you are going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg for this University[/pullquote]
“My frank judgement would be that they recognise [the problem] but probably don’t appreciate how serious it is just yet,” he said.
“They have some concern, it’s on their radar, but it’s not in the forefront of their priorities in the way that we who live and breathe the student experience every day [are aware of the issues].
“We need to really hammer home that if you harm the student experience you are going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg for this University and the arguments for financial insolvency are moot because your University is no longer worth having around,” he said.
A spokesman for the University told The Saint: “Our Strategic Plan will include responses to tough economic demands and development opportunities, while also seeking to safeguard and enrich the unique St Andrews student experience.”
Politicians and academics have criticised the impending budget cut, which is set to be a major blow for the University.
Catherine Stihler, Labour MEP and University rector, told The Saint: “At a time when we need to be growing our economy, particularly in the higher education sector, cutting research funding is short sighted.
“This will mean around £2 million less in research funding for St Andrews and even bigger cuts to other Scottish universities, a decision which has the potential to strain even our most achieving schools. It is disappointing to see that the Budget passed with this cut still present.”
A University spokesperson said: “Like most Scottish universities, we are concerned by this. Universities are net generators of wealth and employment for Scotland.”
A report compiled in 2012, The ‘Economic Impact of the University of St Andrews 2011-12’, found that in 2011-2012, for every £1 of public money invested in the University, St Andrews returned £12.10 to the Scottish economy.
“We employ 1800 staff, but our work directly supports almost 9,000 full-time jobs in Fife, Tayside and elsewhere in Scotland,” the spokesperson continued. “Any cut to research budgets not only threatens to diminish Scotland’s research portfolio and international standing, it will have a direct knock on effect on jobs and economic wellbeing. It’s a simple and sobering equation.”
Brian Thompson, St Andrews councillor and Labour Parliamentary candidate for North East Fife spoke out against the SNP’s decision to reduce the HE budget, calling any cut to funding “very concerning.”
He said that the University of St Andrews plays “an important economic, social and cultural role in the local area – with world leading research a key element of this – and the SNP need to understand that.”