Vice-Chancellor’s Monthly Update – February 2020

Following my update last month, our financial recovery plans have now been reviewed and agreed by Council. As I explained, our income no longer meets our costs and we have difficult decisions to make as we move the University to a longer term sustainable position. I want to use this blog to explain in more detail what this will mean in the months ahead. This is a difficult time for everyone, not least colleagues in central professional services currently consulting on a new leadership structure, so I want to make sure everyone has clarity on our situation.

While Council has approved our accounts and our situation is now secure in the short-term, we are going to need to take urgent steps to ensure our future sustainability. As was made clear in the recent sub-JSNCC minutes, the only way we can guarantee this is to reduce staff costs, where we will need to save £5.3m by the end of 2019/20. This equates to approximately 148 full-time equivalent roles. We also need to be prepared for further reductions of £12m over the next three years if, in the worst-case scenario, we cannot significantly grow our income.

I want to assure you this is not a situation we have reached lightly and I understand why many may have questions about how we got here. While we have been working towards a manageable financial recovery plan, the hard reality is that the impact of last year’s fall in student intake to target has changed our situation significantly. With support from our colleagues in Finance, we now have a funded plan that keeps us in control of our future – however we can only guarantee this by taking these necessary steps to reduce costs further, alongside working to increase and diversify our income.

Financial Sustainability and Improvement Board

To make sure we make savings fairly and effectively we will need to focus on four areas, which will be overseen by a Financial Sustainability and Improvement Board, that we have recently established, which reports directly to Council. Alongside this, we will be working with staff and trade union representatives to do all we can to prioritise voluntary redundancy arrangements that limit the impact on staff. We are also looking to introduce more formal ways for staff to contribute suggestions for wider savings via a sub-group of JSNCC.

  • Organising for Success will continue as before, but with increased savings targets that reflect the change in our financial situation
  • An Academic Sustainability & Performance strand will identify immediate savings through rebalancing where academic and associated resources are best placed, and considering where and how we offer courses
  • A Cash & Capital Approvals Committee will ensure tight control and authorisation of University spending on an ongoing basis
  • Finally, a Business Improvement & Value for Money strand will continue to seek both non-staff savings and ways to speed up income growth.

To support this, we are also in the process of appointing a temporary senior executive with experience of helping organisations identify and make significant savings and manage change. This is a key appointment, reflecting the need for additional expertise in this area, and we are working hard to select an appointee who will be a good fit for the organisation. KVSS will also reopen for specific groups of staff on 9 March, with more information and briefings on this to follow.

Ongoing support

I fully appreciate the importance of keeping everyone informed on progress with this and we are committed to doing this over the coming weeks and months. We are arranging regular meetings with senior leaders so they are fully briefed and able to help, along with increasing support for managers so they can answer questions directly from their teams. I will also be able to hear from you directly at upcoming School and Departmental meetings – while this is an unsettling time, no-one should feel unsupported, and we will all have a role to play in working out how we can do things differently to ensure a future we can be proud of as a University.

Finally, I want us to remember that, despite these challenges, we remain fully focused on the best of what we do at Kent. We continue to deliver fantastic opportunities for thousands of students every day, make discoveries with global impact and bring positive change to our communities. While I know it can be challenging, the more we can maintain this and do all we can to increase student numbers, the more secure our future will be. Thank you once again to you all for all you do every day for our students, our staff and each other.