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Ulster University says loan repayments will not impact on plans for Magee

Newly published financial reports have revealed that Ulster University has lost £54m over past two years

‘No funding’ committed to Magee campus by UK and Irish governments

Ulster University has lost £54.8m in the past two years with pension scheme obligations putting pressure on the institution’s finances.

The university’s income decreased by two per cent in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19.

Somewhat unusually, the financial reports for the past two years have been published one month apart.

The 2018/19 report was originally due for publication in March 2020 but it didn’t appear online until December.

In the intervening period Ulster University received a £126m loan for its Belfast Campus.

The 2019 report shows that UU had an overall deficit of £48.7m.

The 2019/20 report followed last week and takes in the year ending July 31, 2020.

It shows a comprehensive deficit for the year of £6.2m.

Responding to questions about the university’s financial sustainability and the potential ramifications of Brexit, a UU spokesperson said: “We continue to closely monitor the financial trends and outlook to build a sustainable financial strategy that must address not only the financial impacts of COVID, but also the pre-existing challenge of a cost base that has grown, whilst income from government block grant and fees from capped student numbers have remained largely flat. 

“As our Higher Education sector continues to work through the implications of Brexit, we are committed to safeguarding, as much as will be possible, the many valuable partnerships and staff and student opportunities enjoyed across the EU.

“We are confidently maintaining our relationships with EU higher education institutions and partners, to create the strongest basis from which to navigate the challenges of Brexit and sustain our collaboration into the future.   
“Erasmus has been invaluable for student mobility and Ulster University’s current Erasmus plus mobility funding remains in place until 2022. We will consider the available opportunities for continued exchange and mobility for our students.” 

LOAN

The University has prepared a five-year strategic plan and the current development of the Greater Belfast Campus is a ‘key part of that plan’.

UU entered into a revised loan agreement from the Strategic Investment Board in October 2020 to assist the funding of the Greater Belfast Development.

This was agreed in October 2020 for an additional £126m, with a term of 30 years.

The University has drawn down the first instalment of £61m.

Security against the University estate has been given as part of the conditions of the loan.

The financial report states that the University ‘continues to prioritise its efforts to ensure the delivery of the expanded Belfast campus.’

A Strategic Programme Office continues to ensure key transformation ‘Belfast Vision’ projects are delivered.

A spokesperson for the university has insisted that the repayment of loans for the Belfast campus ‘will have no bearing on Magee’.

She said: “Separate funding is in place for developments at other campuses including our new School of Medicine at Magee which will welcome its first cohort of students in September 2021. 

“The School of Medicine will provide much-needed access to medical education in the North West, positioning the Derry City region as an attractive place to study and work.

“It further builds on Ulster University’s capacity to deliver life-changing education and research, supporting the health and well-being agenda in Northern Ireland. 

“September 2021 will also see the launch of Northern Ireland’s first BSc Paramedic Science degree based within our multi-award winning School of Nursing on the Magee Campus.”

She continued: “Following a renewed commitment to Magee expansion in the New Decade, New Approach Deal, the University’s senior leaders continue to work with all strategic partners across both jurisdictions to ensure that the infrastructure and policy environment is in place to achieve everyone’s desired growth at Magee.

“When Jordanstown relocates to Belfast, the new city campus will be at full occupancy and therefore any future growth will be at the Magee and Coleraine campuses.

“Our continued focus on sustainable regional and campus balance will support this growth, as we seek to align subjects in the best interests of student experience, and play our part in the distribution of further and higher educational opportunity to meet student demand across Northern Ireland."

'DELIVERY'

Sinead McLaughlin, Foyle MLA and her party's higher education spokesperson, congratulated Ulster University for reducing its financial deficit from £48m in 2019 to just £6m in the 2020 year.

She said: “The university's financial challenges have included pension liabilities, which is common across the university sector, and the particular problems Ulster University has had with its Belfast campus.

“Stormont's Public Accounts Committee last year said it was 'appalled by the scale of overruns' at the Belfast campus, stating that this was 'indicative of poor project management'.

“This is the opposite of what is to be expected of a major university that boasts of property sector expertise.”

She added: "Recent months have seen essential progress at the Magee campus with the opening of the medical school for student applications.

“I am determined that this must be followed by further progress in the higher education sector in Derry and the North West.

"It is now up to Ulster University to deliver on the expectations of local people.

“That delivery needs to include an unequivocal commitment to the transfer of all health and life sciences courses to Magee.

INFLUENCE

The report says that as de facto Chief Executive of the University, the Vice-Chancellor exercises 'considerable influence' upon the development of institutional strategy, the identification and planning of new developments and the shaping of the institutional ethos.

The VC’s salary at Ulster University has increased by £100k over the past decade.

Ulster University has refused to provide the salary of current VC, Professor Paul Bartholomew.

Back in 2010 the VC received a salary of £193k rising to £251k after benefits and pension contributions.

By 2018/19 former VC Paddy Nixon was receiving £285k which rose to £343k.

The report for that year added that in addition to the above the VC was provided with a house, the provision of which was a non-taxable benefit - the value of this benefit in 2018/19 was £24,562.

Professor Bartholomew was appointed Interim VC on March 1, 2020 and VC on August 17.

The report says that he’s on a salary of £75k, no benefits are included but it increases to £90k after pension contributions.

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