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Our plan is certainly ambitious but UCL is not ‘under strain’

14 June 2016

The letter below was submitted to the Financial Times in response to an article suggesting that UCL was under financial strain. It was printed on 14 June 2016.

Sir, I would like to refute the suggestion that UCL’s finances are under excessive strain. UCL has assets of more than £1bn, and consistently runs a budget surplus (£26m in the past financial year, and on target as budgeted to increase to £50m this year). Nor have we taken out “the biggest loan in British university history” as claimed.

A number of other institutions have taken out larger loans, ours being the biggest a UK institution has ever secured from the European Investment Bank, as reported in the Financial Times on April 28. This loan has not as yet been drawn down, and has no bearing on our liquidity today.

As you point out, we are second only to Oxford among UK institutions in the level of research funding we attract, and we continue to be a magnet for bright students around the world. We must deliver first-class facilities and infrastructure for those who work and study here. We have therefore set a target of a 5.5 per cent budget surplus by 2017-18, closer to those of comparable institutions in the sector. The planned budget surplus, taken with the EIB loan, will enable us to make the necessary investment, both in our historic Bloomsbury home and at our planned campus on the site of the Olympic Park.

I freely acknowledge that pursuing improved financial sustainability is not popular with all staff but to claim that morale is at “rock-bottom” is too easy a jibe. There will always be conflicting views of the best way forward in an institution the size of UCL, and in line with our free-thinking traditions, these are freely expressed. But in addition to all anecdotal evidence to the contrary, any analysis of our most recent surveys of staff and students would indicate that the overwhelming majority are as proud of UCL and its intended future as I am. In our 2015 Staff Survey 80 per cent of respondents said that they are proud to work for UCL.

Our plan is certainly ambitious but, far from putting us under strain, I believe it is the right one to ensure that we maintain our position as one of the world’s leading universities.

Professor Michael Arthur

President and Provost,

UCL