University refuses to answer questions on financial health
Questions surround the University of Warwick’s financial state after it refused to give details of its budget forecasts and plans for this year and the near future.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from RaW, the University decided “to withhold information relating to forecasts and budgets, including the five year financial plan”.
Citing Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Deputy Registrar informed RaW the request had been “carefully considered, but that “Information is exempt if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)”.
Nevertheless, Peter Dunn, the University’s spokesman, has said that “despite the global economic downturn the University remains confident that that it has a sufficiently diverse range of funding streams to meet the challenges posed by such a global downturn.”
Mr Dunn refused to use the term “well placed” on grounds of ambiguity.
The Students’ Union, which is facing a deficit this year of nearly £0.75 million has also expressed confidence in the University, from which it receives a significant annual grant.
Andy Glyde, the Union’s Governance and Finance Officer said: “We have no concerns over our annual allocation from the University as a result of the recession. We are confident that the University will be able to ride this wave and continue to support the work of the SU.”
“They have been sensible with their money and in the past have shown the capability to deal with pressures externally on funding. In the 80s when HE [Higher Education] funding was cut by the Thatcher government, Warwick was at the forefront to developing alternative sources of income in order to cope with the declining funding.”
Mr Glyde who was limited in what he could say, added that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the University’s financial health.
He also believed that the University had a “reasonable reason to refuse the information” requested by RaW.
“You have to remember that the University runs a fairly substantial commercial operation in order to help fund the activities of the institution. They are not a member organisation like the Union and so are not accountable to students on their finances…. Release of financial information could damage them against competitors.”
Given the deteriorating economic outlook, the University may have greater impetus to protect sensitive financial information.
Last year’s statement of accounts of the University indicated that the University’s surplus had fallen to £2.9 million, a fall from a peak of £11.9 million in 2005/06.
For the year ending July 2008, it blamed the fall in the surplus on “strategic investment” and “increases in staff costs following the most recent national pay agreements”.
In the Treasurer’s report it was stated: “We expect the current year to be a demanding financial environment. We have significant inflationary pressures … The investigation of new and growing sources of income, alongside cost saving and efficiency initiatives, is a priority to help compensate for inflationary cost pressures.”
In the short term the University remains ”...confident that the financial outcome for the current year will be acceptable in the circumstances.”
As for student’s job prospects, the University indicated that Warwick Careers service would be “very receptive” to any new internship opportunities which become available from the new “government scheme or elsewhere”.
However, it was less on clear on whether the institution would be doing anything particularly different this year to help graduating students.
Instead, spokesman Mr Dunn says that students will be able to welcome recent media coverage “suggesting that while city firms are reducing the number of Universities they look to recruit from…they are still looking at Warwick as one of their sources of recruits”.