Transparent, participatory financial decision-making? Not at the University of Nottingham!

Following up on our Alternative Financial Strategy, UoN’s UCU committee has approached management to share its new, updated Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) with us. This is the document that sets out the University’s financial plans for the medium term, the current plan covers the period until 2025. The MTFP is a tool to implement the University’s Strategy. Management has, however, refused to share the MTFP. We have been told that it would be made available only after it has been approved by the University’s Finance Committee and Council in the summer. That is, the union can only see the Plan after it has been decided and therefore not open to revision or amendment.

How does the implementation of this MTFP work across our University? It is our understanding, that key budget figures are set out centrally before they are devolved to Faculties and, from there, to Schools. The latter, however, do not have any say in the allocation of these sums. They are simply expected to provide a plan of the ways in which they intend to spend the allocated budget, the already fixed sum delegated to them. Room for negotiation is limited. These plans are then collected at Faculty level, compiled and fed back to UoN’s Financial Planning Group, then Finance Committee and finally signed off by Council.

[For information, Council has 28 members, of whom only five are ‘staff members’ elected through Senate. The University’s Finance Committee has one ‘Senate representative’ out of a total of 13 members. Staff members elected by colleagues (including in the professorial category) currently account for less than half of the membership of Senate].

Management’s refusal to share their financial plans for the next 4-5 years clearly highlights three of UCU’s major concerns about UoN’s approach to finances.

First, despite all of its road shows, management has absolutely no intention of being genuinely transparent about its financial decision-making.  Why is the university unwilling to share its MTFP with the university community before it is finalized?  

Second, management clearly has no interest in hearing what staff or the Senate have to say about financial priorities. Otherwise, it would have responded very differently to our AFS and our request to see the updated MTFP. This speaks to wider issues about University governance and its top-down undemocratic approach to decision making

Finally, its latest refusal makes clear that the budget is effectively determined by a very small number of managers whose views about institutional priorities are placed above what staff think, and without their decisions being subject to proper accountability to the university community.  This is extremely disturbing, given that universities are public and charitable institutions where processes should not only be transparent but also more democratic.

These concerns must be addressed by management immediately.

By completely shielding the new MTFP from serious scrutiny or input from outside, University management is attempting to forge ahead with its unsustainable plans, completely unchallenged.

But we will continue to challenge this policy! We know that projects of up to £430 million have been earmarked for funding over the next five years. We also know that this is to be financed through annual surpluses based on the 11 per cent permanent cuts as well as a 35 per cent increase in turnover. This means that these plans will also be very painful and will mean more work, more mental health issues, and more burnout. We will not accept the secrecy surrounding key financial decisions at our University.  

We demand that the MTFP be made available immediately.

And we continue to re-iterate the demands we laid out in the AFS, including:

  • A review the of University’s investment programme in light of the pandemic, with priority given to investment in staff and students. Some projects may well have to be delayed or even cancelled due to the pandemic.
  • Opening up the discussion of which investment projects should be retained in a broad democratic consultation with all staff.
  • Democratise investment decisions by establishing Senate as a key decision-making body.