Communication from VC in March 2009 to all staff
This is the second of my regular updates to all staff at the University.
Over the past few months I have enjoyed talking to many of you as I have visited departments. Most people have told me that they feel our new organisational structure with its greater emphasis on faculties is beginning to work well, with clearer lines of communication within faculties, and greater transparency of information.
There is much still to do, of course, and further improvements in transparency and our communications are in hand. More information about professional services activities and budgets is being made available, to match that available for academic departments. I believe it is very important that everyone knows how and when budgets are set, as these impact on all our work.
The economic context
We are all only too aware of the global financial turmoil and the UK economic recession which is the wider backdrop to our own activity at the University. I know you will also share my concern about the impact on our graduates, so I wanted to reassure you that we are taking steps to help them boost their chances of employment in the short and longer term. This help applies not only to current students, but also to those who are newly graduated, and that message will be made clear to graduating students and their parents who are bound to feel particularly anxious about the immediate future.
Another impact on the University is to make many of our funding streams more uncertain, especially looking a few years ahead. Currently, student applications are buoyant in most areas, but at postgraduate level there will be challenges in obtaining funding support for students. Funding for research, whether from research councils, charities, or business and industry, is already tighter. Our HEFCE grant settlement for 09/10 is broadly in line with our financial forecasts but is a small increase (less than 2%) and will not deliver growth in real terms for our budgets.
So how should we respond to these challenges? Primarily, we should carry on delivering world class teaching and research, and we should use our normal planning processes to plan how we will continue to do this in the future. I believe it is important to remember that we are all in this together, and we may all need to be more flexible if we are to protect and strengthen our core academic activities and the services that support these.
The University of Sheffield, thanks to everyone´s efforts in keeping within budgets previously, is rather better placed financially than some in the sector to withstand the challenges ahead. But things are bound to get tough across the public sector as the Government – of whatever political persuasion – reins in its spending. We need to be thinking hard about possible consequences and how we will adapt.
For example, we may need to adapt our approach to future budget allocations in the light of the Government´s protection of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics; and Medicine), so that we maintain our strengths across Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences too. We may need to look at our course structures and adapt how we teach to meet demand more flexibly and efficiently.
I mentioned in my Update in November that the University Executive Board has set up a Rapid Response Group, chaired by Pro-Vice-Chancellor Paul White, which is looking at possible sudden and significant changes in our income streams. The Executive Board is looking at various scenarios so that we can incorporate this thinking into our planning processes, and be well prepared for possible radical changes in the nature of the higher education sector and approaches to funding.
How can the University help the region during the recession?
In addition to the impact within the University, we are all very aware of the challenges facing our city and region. Nationally, there is a spotlight on how universities can help the country come out of recession. I believe that the single most important way in which we can contribute to the local economy is through remaining a strong and vibrant institution with a large number of staff and students living, working, and spending in the area.
However, there are a number of other actions we are taking. For example, we have recently agreed to improve the payment terms for local suppliers – and instead of our usual commitment to pay their invoices within 30 days, we will now aim to do so within 14 days. This step will help improve the cashflow of local businesses – on whom our regional economy depends.
We have also applied for some government monies from the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, through two collaborative bids with Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Universities. If we are chosen for this initiative, we will be able to dedicate more resources to help local companies and individuals through the recession, as well as investing more in our graduates to help them secure jobs and training opportunities after graduation.
We are in regular contact with our local MPs, local councils and the regional development agency at this challenging time – all greatly value our willingness to work with them in practical ways, and believe our continued contribution to a knowledge-based economy and our outstanding graduates are crucial to the city and region´s long-term resilience.
In conclusion, I would as always like to thank you for your continue support and willingness to adapt to challenges and face them with creativity and determination. These qualities are going to be increasingly important over the coming months, and I thank you in advance for your willingness to work together to ensure our ongoing success as leading university with a global reputation.
Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor
If you would like more information, or to tell me your views, please email me and I or one of my senior colleagues will respond.