Message from Patrick Hackett, Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer
We have received the results of a student referendum, administered through the Students’ Union, which concluded yesterday. While the result of the referendum is non-binding on the University, below we have set out the University’s position on the issues covered by the referendum and the steps we are taking to address them.
We have taken unprecedented, sector-leading action to support our students and we will continue to do so. We take the views of our student body very seriously and an important part of this is working with the elected members of the Students’ Union to listen to the views of students. This means that the senior management regularly meets with the Students’ Union and they are represented on all our most important bodies, including our Board of Governors. We will always listen when peaceful representation is made. This will never change.
As well as letting you know you are being listened to, we want to share what we’ve been doing to address issues raised in the referendum.
Cost of Living
Students have been offered a £170 payment, (and part-time students £85) – this is over 40,000 people. A further 10,000 who are in receipt of bursaries, or from groups such as care estranged students, have been offered an additional payment of up to £230 if full-time, and part-time £115. This brings our spending to date on direct payments to £9m, a sector leading amount.
Alongside this, students who are in financial difficulties can apply for up to £2,000 which doesn’t have to be paid back. There is no cap to the budget for this fund and we encourage anyone who is struggling to get in touch.
We have raised the minimum stipend for 2022/23 by more than £2,000 for all PGRs who are on a studentship funded directly by the University.
We have ended library fines, free eBooks have been provided and free hot water, microwaves and warm spaces are available. We provide free showers and period products. We have reduced food and drink prices on campus and provided hundreds of free lunches and breakfasts.
We have provided a comprehensive list of all the actions the Students’ Union and the University are taking.
This package is larger and more comprehensive than that of any other university, and we continue to work with our Students’ Union to identify ways of supporting our students.
We agree that the decision made by the government to raise the Maintenance Grant by only 2.8% does not adequately address the issues which students are facing. We’re actively working with other universities to encourage a review of this and our President and Vice-Chancellor, Nancy Rothwell, has been lobbying government ministers on the issue.
Rent prices in University Halls
We work hard to keep rents in halls as low as possible. Our rents start at one of the lowest price points in the Russell Group. We never pass on increases in energy or food prices in the year, and when we do increase prices we make sure the lowest increases are in the cheapest halls. This year the increase in these halls was 1.5%. In contrast, some private providers in Manchester are making increases of up to 18%, from a base that is already more expensive than ours.
Unlike most private accommodation all accommodation includes energy bills, water and Wi-Fi. Some halls are also catered. Cleaners visit residences twice a week. Also, unlike other accommodation students have access to ResLife, the 24/7 wellbeing and pastoral support programme we launched across all our halls in 2016; on-site security, and a programme of social events.
We don’t make a profit from the rent we charge. Rental income goes towards our operating costs, including the hundreds of staff we have working in residences; rapidly rising energy costs; and maintenance and new facilities.
We recently spent £90m on building Unsworth Park and we’re also working on a major investment and development strategy, to accelerate the planned modernisation of our student accommodation. Ongoing development includes £14m at Dalton Ellis, including full bedroom refurbishments, £4m at Oak House, including refurbished kitchens and communal areas, £3m in developing the strategy for a more significant investment/redevelopment of our halls, £1.3m on upgrading CCTV and lighting in Fallowfield and the annual Long-Term Maintenance spend of £2m. A total of nearly £25m.
When Manchester City Council asks for comments on new student accommodation plans, we argue strongly for affordable rents and won’t support any schemes that don’t offer good value for money.
Your Students’ Union is making sure that your concerns are heard by Mayor Andy Burnham through the Greater Manchester Student Assembly and is collaborating with other students’ unions to lobby central government.
The current industrial action with regard to pay/working conditions and the USS pension is being negotiated on our behalf at national level. This means that we can’t act alone on these issues. However, many universities, including ours, have offered to enter discussions with our local unions about how we can improve employment contracts and working conditions, including the use of fixed term contracts and reducing pay gaps. Local discussions with our own unions have already begun.
As in the case of students, we do recognise that colleagues will be feeling the pressures of rising costs. So, in addition to student payments, we’ve also made payments to all colleagues except the Senior Leadership Team, totalling many millions of pounds. We have also been a Real Living Wage Employer since, 2019, meaning staff are paid above the National Minimum Wage level.
The national pay negotiations weren’t able to reach a collective agreement this year, so a new pay uplift has been made. This ranges from 8% for the lowest paid staff (earning up to and including £19,333), to 5% for those earning £31,411 or more. This is in addition to the increments that about half our staff receive annually.
We are taking disciplinary action against some students related to the illegal occupations of University buildings over many weeks. Reasons for this include injury to and intimidation of our staff who are doing their jobs, which we cannot accept. Damage to property has also been caused and significant disruption to core activities including moving teaching at short notice. We’ve laid out the all the reasons in more detail here. Teaching and other activity have been disrupted by occupations around campus since 8 February, and while many universities take a very hard line on this sort of protest, we have preferred to repeatedly ask the students to leave and attempt to engage through the Students’ Union.
Contrary to some rumours, we have not evicted anyone for non-payment of rent. We have been regularly writing and speaking to students who have not paid rent. Our starting point is to understand why and offer support, including payment plans. If we don’t receive a response then our procedure is to apply a £25 charge and ultimately refer non-payers to a third-party agency, which is an action of last resort.
A message to students
Everyone who works at the University cares deeply about our students and their wellbeing. I hope that some of the actions we’ve outlined above have evidenced that, and we think of students first in all of our decisions.
The University doesn’t make a profit, we reinvest everything in our university, nor do we have huge sums in reserve. Some extremely large figures have been circulated, but to realise these we’d need to take actions like selling our buildings or not paying staff on time. In reality, if we paid tens of millions to students in a one-off payment we’d have to spend less elsewhere – whether that’s the investment we’re making in halls or any of the other services students need and value, and how we pay staff.
The balance we have struck is to fund a sector-leading package which we know is genuinely needed, while investing in essential services and targeted support. We’ll also continue to talk to our Students’ Union and use our influence to lobby on the national issues which are at the heart of the current cost of living problem.
Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer