Belfast AUT Newsletter Issue no. 6- May 2003
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go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext Financial Windfall for QUB

QUB has received several windfalls and other sums which have transformed our Income and Expenditure account for our current financial year from a forecast deficit of £51K to a forecast surplus of £7.646M. Most of these are one-off payments with little implication for future income. However, the surplus will enable QUB to pay its share of a large number of capital projects.

The Government’s financial year ends on 5 April and it has the peculiar funding system that any money unspent by then has to be returned by the ministries to the Treasury (Department of Finance & Personnel in NI). I speculate that this may have something to do with some of the sudden generosity. QUB has been given an extra £1.8M for research funding. Some of this has been earmarked to assist the implementation of the Academic Plan. There are always difficulties in matching Government grants with our accounts because of the different financial years (ours ends on 31 July), but I am told that this money is not part of the new research funding announced just before Christmas, but is a one-off payment. So too is £1.84M additional (non-recurrent) funding from the Government to support the implementation of the Human Resources Strategy and to finance the restructuring costs associated with the 2002 Academic Plan. The latter includes a payment of about £0.9M specifically to fund the Early Retirement/Severance scheme. This, together with a review of the likely costs, has enabled the provision (money set aside) made in QUB accounts of £1.068M to be released as no longer needed.

QUB also expects to receive a £1.5M rates rebate before the end of the financial year. This is the result of protracted negotiations and covers the period from 1997. This payment is a one-off, but the rates reduction will mean about £350K p.a. less expenditure in future years. The NI universities are the only UK universities which pay rates, and at one time there was a specific part of our Government grant to pay the rates. Some years ago this was consolidated into our general grant and I am assured that the Government will not try to claw back the rates refund.

Updating our estimated income from fees brings in an extra £274K and the revision of estimated short-term investment income has produced a further £196K. Improvement in the projected outturn on general funded budgets and the deployment of new specific funds has benefited Income and Expenditure by £1.35M. A major part of this is the savings made through not filling vacant posts. We have also made £0.45M from the sale of property.

The final improvement in Income and Expenditure is not new money at all. The accounts contain money set aside specifically for future expenditure to which we are committed. Under accounting rules these provisions must be an accurate estimate of what these expenditures will be. Revisions of these has produced a further improvement in the Income and Expenditure account.

Because the improvements are mainly one-off, the surplus has been ear-marked for capital expenditure. It will enable QUB to pay its share (25%) of the following projects: the extra accommodation for Computer Science, new facilities for Drama and Film Studies, and refurbished accommodation for Lifelong Learning. It also will enable us to pay our 25% share of work required under the Disabilities Act, for the improvement of equipment in centrally booked teaching space, and for the use of Information and Communication Technology. It will also fund our 10% contribution to SRIF II. Finally, it will enable Queen’s to spend £3.25M on the rolling capital programme and £1.5M on minor works and planned maintenance. In total QUB’s expenditure on these capital projects will be £8.848M. The difference from the expected surplus is explained by the fact that some money had already been scrapped together for some of these projects from QUB’s near depleted capital reserves.
In case you are wondering about the flag-ship capital projects, Lanyon II is on a very long finger, and private donations are still being raised for the new Library, but site clearance for it is due in 2005.

go to topcontents go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext AUT Gains Initial GATS Victory

There is a global movement, through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to commercialise higher education, where large corporations will be able to supply educational ‘products’ for profit. To the majority of people education is a public service. However, large corporations and many governments are attracted to education as a lucrative economic sector due to the US$2 trillion expenditure worldwide. The WTO is central to the thrust for liberalisation of trade in services through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

The European Commission announced on 5 February that higher education would not be included in the initial offer of market access, the deadline for which is 31 March. This is a significant victory as AUT has been at the forefront of the campaign for HE to be excluded from the GATS. However, we must continue to be vigilant as HE could be a target in future negotiating rounds.

The EU negotiates in the WTO on behalf of its member countries. In preparation for the GATS, the EU is establishing a European Higher Education Area, otherwise known as harmonisation of HE provision, through the Sorbonne/Bologna process.

Paul Hudson

go to topcontents go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext Meeting with DEL officers, 14th March

An AUT group met the two senior civil servant responsible for higher education in Northern Ireland, Robson Davison and David McAuley. There are no decisions imminent on the white paper as DEL are waiting on the return of a local administration. The consensus was that local parties would be mainly concerned with direct, immediate benefits in Northern Ireland. Also DEL are waiting to see how DfES sees the white paper for England. Some policies are UK-wide, such as science policy, HEIF, and QAA, but control of these remains with the devolved governments. However, much of the white paper applies only to England, and Northern Ireland needs policies that suit Northern Ireland — a challenge for Roberts. The teaching aspects would easily transfer across but much of the white paper would not.

Funding and differentiation/diversification

The white paper raises a number of questions and choices that need to be addressed. For instance, differentiation of universities is a theme running through the white paper, but there would be no logic applying this in Northern Ireland. Fees diversification towards revenue-raising courses is also an issue. Yet doing this might alter diversification. Courses not able to attract fees might be in trouble.

Deny the right to charge top-up fees and higher education will be under-funded and second-rate. Have top-up fees and look at the consequences for breadth of provision. There is no provision for raising revenue in Northern Ireland so the Assembly has to work within the parameters of the Barnet Formula (block grant).

Student numbers and widening access

There is no push to increase participation in Northern Ireland as it is close to the UK target. Also DEL do not have the additional resources that would be required, and so they have to cap student numbers at what is affordable. There are targets for widening access though.


In response to the emphasis in the white paper of a split between teaching and research, DEL confirmed that research and teaching would continue to be carried out at both universities in NI. Such a split would not be in the best interests of the province.

The HEFCE settlement looks generous on the face of it, but it is more generous for research than teaching. The NI settlement for teaching this year is more generous than HEFCE’s. In terms of future funding, parity with England is essential (but impossible with Scotland). Bids will soon be invited from the two universities for agricultural teaching and research following the DARD review.

Knowledge Transfer

The universities are beginning to show keenness in this area. The issues for NI are very different from those in the white paper. DEL wants the universities to look at skill sets, as NI does not produce enough ‘knowledge economy’ graduates. There is also a problem of retaining those graduates in NI once they have finished their degrees. Student support could be the key to this problem.

Further education

There is currently a major review of the whole of further education, having been conducted over the last four or five months. This review asks whether FE is doing too much, and looking specifically at issues around the interface with FE, interaction with HE, business, and the community.

In England, FE will be used to widen access. DEL are very interested in the transition from FE through to HE, and want outputs in skills relevant to the knowledge economy. Expansion of FE in NI is likely to come from part-time provision, such as lifelong learning to up-skill the workforce. DEL also want to turn many HNDs into foundation courses as the quality control seems better in the latter.

NI Universities

The universities feed into the region economically, socially and culturally. The big pay-off is the economic impact of the role of the two universities, through commercial exploitation, knowledge transfer, and playing a bigger role with business.

Political work

There is a secure settlement for HE, and it is likely the parties will take HE a little more seriously. However students views dominate politicians’ thinking. We need to be debating with them and getting the message across about the knowledge economy and the need for comparable funding. We could lobby MLAs in areas where there are a lot of university staff and student votes.

Regional Office

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Redundancy Pay

Belfast AUT has always strongly opposed compulsory redundancies. We have managed to negotiate sufficiently attractive packages that those few involved in ‘conventional’ redundancies have left voluntarily. For targeted individuals in major upheavals such as the academic plan, QUB has offered the best early retirement/severance packages available in the sector, and has sometimes been willing to negotiate further.
The problem has been that any fixed-term staff whose contract expired and was not renewed are technically redundant, but received no compensation. They normally did not get even a statutory redundancy payment as they had waived their rights to it when they signed their contract.

As detailed in previous Newsletters, there have been major changes in the employment of fixed- term staff through legislation and through national and local agreements. A waiver of redundancy rights is no longer valid. QUB agreed (with caveats) to move to an indefinite contract anyone employed continuously on fixed-term contracts for seven years. By 2006 this limit will drop to four years under legislation. QUB is committed to reducing the use of fixed-term contracts, and AUT has negotiated on the circumstances under which they are offered. In addition QUB is now vigorously looking at redeployment for anybody facing redundancy. After a long AUT campaign, they have introduced bridging funds to tide people over short gaps between contracts.

QUB Senate has now approved a Redundancy Procedure for all academic and related staff. All that it does is to add some flesh to the bones of the redundancy process which was inserted into QUB Statutes by the Government. However it has attached to it a table of redundancy payments applicable to all academic and related staff. The main beneficiary will be those were employed on fixed-term contracts and for whom there is no suitable continued employment. Starting from an existing table for staff other than academic and related, Belfast AUT were able to negotiate considerable improvements (which incidentally apply to the other staff too). We could find few universities which had a standard table of redundancy payments to ‘permanent’ staff and virtually none which make payments to fixed-term staff other than statuary entitlement if any. We believe that as regards a standard offer of redundancy compensation QUB and Belfast AUT lead the field.

Length of service Entitlement
0 to less than 2 years service No statutory entitlement but 1 week’s pay
2 years to less than 5 years service Statutory entitlement plus 1 week’s pay for each year of service
5 years to less than 16 years service Statutory entitlement plus 2 week’s pay for each year of service up to a maximum of 1 year’s salary
16 years to less than 20 years service Statutory entitlement (defined in this instance as 1½ weeks for each year of service) plus 2½ week’s pay for each year of service
20 years service or more Statutory entitlement (defined in this instance as 1½ weeks for each year of service) plus 3 week’s pay for each year of service up to a maximum of 2 year’s salary

Individuals aged 50 or more facing redundancy who are members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme may, in some circumstances, opt to have the redundancy compensation payable transferred to the Scheme. Any transfer of redundancy compensation would be used to enhanced the discounted accrued benefits payable under the early retirement provisions of the rules of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

The above was adopted by QUB on 8/4/03 for academic and related staff including fixed-term staff. In fact, the accrued benefits under USS are not discounted if someone aged over 50 leaves as redundant.

Statutory entitlement is payable only after 2 years service. It is accumulated at the rate of 1 ‘week’s pay’ for each year of service between ages 21 and 30 and at the rate of 1½ ‘week’s pay’ for each year of service thereafter. Unfortunately, what counts as a ‘week’s pay’ is the smaller of actual pay and (currently) £250, so in most cases the latter figure would apply. For redundancy close to retirement age the statutory entitlement is scaled down.

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Our Pay Claim and the White Paper

The draft pay claim by the academic unions, and the draft AUT response to the White Paper are available on the national website ( Go to Policy and Publications, then National Circulars and then enter 7326 or 7333 respectively in the box. Both documents will be finalised after they have been discussed at AUT Council on 10 April.

Vice-Chancellors are “embarrassed” by their large pay packets according to new research from academics at Aberdeen and Newcastle universities. The researchers found that pay for vice-chancellors had increased by 2.6% above inflation each year since 1994 when their salaries were first disclosed. The latest average increase was 6.1%. This report appeared in early April, but I don’t think that it is an April fool!

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The next V-C

An update on the process and the results of the questionnaire will be in a special edition soon.

Paul Hudson

© 2003 Belfast Association of University Teachers
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