GUCU commissioned an independent review by THP Chartered Accountants of Goldsmiths College public accounts and information received from the Finance team on staffing costs. A follow-up meeting was also held with the Director of Finance. This information was freely provided as part of a new financial transparency report produced by the College Finance team. As UCU members we wanted to look closely at College Finances so that we can:
- Better understand the financial context of the College to be able to respond accurately and in detail to any potential calls for redundancy or re-structuring due to lower than expected student recruitment and /or anticipated rises in pension contributions;
- Offer a counter narrative where appropriate, based on detailed financial scrutiny, that can interrogate perceptions of financial crises;
- Explore further how reforms and marketisation brought in with the Browne Review and tripling of tuition fees since 2010 have not resulted in ‘efficiency’, but often it’s opposite;
- Examine new layers of management in the College, how much they cost, and to determine whether this expansion works to (a) enforce departmental surpluses and ‘business only’ justifications for departmental spending on teaching and resources and (b) create barriers to communication between departments and SMT, arguably weakening democracy and disempowering academic, administrative and technical staff on the ground who are in touch with pedagogical developments and student’s needs;
- Analyse finances in management’s own terms in order to scrutinise the operation of the College, its targets and plans; to argue against a sense that we are not in touch with ‘the real world’; and to begin to lay the ground for other financial, governance and institutional models that might not be predicated on real estate, growth in student numbers and the casualisation of staff.
Below is a summary of key points and issues from the analysis that might begin discussion around finance and governance in the year ahead. Detailed figures and information can be found at: https://www.gold.ac.uk/governance/financial-reports/ and here on Goldmine:
- The College has brought in £52 million since 2011-12 with a ‘cash in the bank’ balance of almost £30 million at the end of 2017 (and close to that for 2018). Between 2015-16 and 2016-17 there was a £6 million increase in fee income.
- There are significant operating surpluses since 2011-12 that fluctuate between £6.7 and £9.5 million with some years upwards of £10 million. ‘Cash in the bank’ figures (see above) however, are a clearer figure to follow, as surpluses (profits) can more easily be shaped (eg. to fit particular narratives that may be considered useful by organisations often for purposes of tax liability or shareholder confidence but also to justify strategic direction).
- That said, the College are not taking out massive loans or bonds from the stock market, and have paused plans for a new building on St. James’ due to cost. It is also the case, that the sector is unstable right now, and that Goldsmiths lack of STEM funding and scale make it vulnerable to changes. From an external auditors point of view, however, the financial figures look very healthy in comparison to many charities and corporations.
- The College has used most of the surplus on Capital Expenditure – buildings and IT in the last 7 years (£65.8 million 2011-17). The Director of Finance noted however, that while Capital Expenditure had been running at £12-14 million per year for the last 5-7 years, that this expenditure will be capped at approx. £8 million per year from here on – £5million for Estates, £2.5million for IT and £0.5million for departments.
- Income from research is falling, both QR (from the REF) and grants (14,5% to 9.17% of income in last seven years). Increasing research income is a ‘KPI’, but it is failing. We don’t see any strategies for increasing this income – eg. an enhanced research office adequate to the task, addressing workload, mentoring early career researchers, appointing research administrators for all departments, – or crucially, a post-Brexit plan.
- SSRs (Student Staff Ratios) are cited in the accounts as 14.2:1 (down from 16.9:1 in 2012-13), which seems to be at odds with other figures out there, including from the Guardian League Table. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17 student fee income increased by almost 12%, while the number of teaching staff increased by 3%. While it appears that increases in teaching staff are not keeping pace with increase in student numbers (and that fee income is being directed elsewhere), the figures remain somewhat unclear and require disaggregating by department. Further information will be provided by the Director of Finance shortly.
- The NSS score is in decline. If, in management terms, this is an important ‘KPI’, it is unclear how current spending priorities are contributing to increase those NSS scores. Does a focus on Capital Expenditure increase NSS scores? Is there a co-relation between staff workload, numbers of casualised staff and NSS scores? If the NSS is not an adequate measure and flawed in many other ways, it isn’t clear if the College will oppose it and/or work with other institutions to propose something more appropriate.
- Staff costs are 61% of College expenditure. Academic staff constitute 53% of this figure, professional services 31% (Research staff 4%, Technical Staff 6% and Admin in Departments 6%). Professional Services have grown at a slightly faster rate than academic staff over the three year period of accounts that have been made available at this level of detail. In Sep 2018, 3 new School Administrators have been appointed at Grade 10 (Reader) to ‘improve staff and student experience’, paid for from within existing budgets in Professional Services. Further managerial posts along the with recently created “Planning and Budgeting Sub-Committee” add to the concern that there is a growing disconnect between managers, centralised professional services and departments and academic staff .
Further figures on salary costs of broad categories of staff over a longer time span will be provided shortly.
- There are no targets or ‘KPIs’ (Key Performance Indicators) in the published accounts on desired surpluses, student intake numbers from year to year, nor on many of ‘pillars’ of the strategic plan (such as the internationalisation pillar), so there is often no indication in these documents of whether surpluses are in line with plans or not, or against what they should be measured.
- Student retention is below sector average and a real problem for the College.
- The auditor’s impression and our own from conversations with the Director of Finance, is that College financial planning is largely reactive and lacks a vision for the future. There seems to be a lot of ‘muddling through’. For example, while undergraduate student numbers are dropping across the sector, the financial plan still depends on constant growth. There seems to be no strategy regarding how to make the College more sustainable and there is no post-Brexit plan at all. There is also a lack of vision about how the current model and spending priorities support strategy around NSS, increasing research income and so on.