Accessibility statement

University finances: information for students

May 2024 update

UK funding for higher education continues to be very challenging, and like many other universities, we continue to face increasing costs.

UK universities do not make a profit and any income is spent on running the university or reinvesting for the future. You can see how we spend your fees, but even though tuition fees play a significant role in university finances, it's now widely reported that universities across the country lose £1 billion each year on teaching domestic students and £5 billion on undertaking research. 

We are also facing cost of living and inflationary pressures, with more expensive fuel, energy, maintenance and equipment. For example, a microscope that used to cost £100 at the beginning of 2021, now costs more than £120. We are having to absorb these increased costs. 

All of this means we need to find different ways to manage our finances so that we can reinvest in teaching and learning, our student experience and in our research.

The need for change

Charlie Jeffery, our Vice-Chancellor, recently wrote a comment piece for the media about why universities need to act now to manage their finances and the need to rethink university funding.

He stresses how we must protect high quality teaching and research, and he sets out a ten-point plan for a more resilient sector.

What York is doing about it

York has moved quickly to put in place a series of measures to control what we can. 

As well as finding new ways to increase our income, we also need to lower how much it costs to run the University. 

A big part of this is looking at our estate costs. We want to focus on using our buildings more effectively, by spending time in the better buildings, and moving out of our older ones that are expensive to maintain and run.

For our staff, we want to remove bureaucracy, inefficiencies and duplication, and we want to protect our staffs’ time on the activities that bring the most benefit for our students and our research. 

What this means for our students

We have been talking about how we need to organise ourselves differently, so that we can lower our costs. We’ll do this in lots of different ways:

  • Changing how we use our buildings
    Making better use of our campus space is not only an important part of our financial measures, but it will continue to be a key contributor to future environmental sustainability targets for the University.

  • Re-examining our big estate initiatives 
    We have paused or delayed some of our big investments, like building a new Student Centre. We will keep investing in our student experience - and especially mental health and wellbeing - but carefully managing our estates costs is a big focus.

  • Changing the work for our staff and what they spend their time on 
    By removing some of the bureaucracy associated with our teaching and learning, it will mean staff - academic and professional services - will have more time to focus on what matters most for high quality teaching and support. 

    For example, we are looking at our teaching governance to reduce the number of committees, whilst also maintaining students' input into key decisions and ensuring that the student voice is heard. 

  • Marking and assessment
    As part of their progress, students will likely see changes in the future to how their learning is assessed and marked. For some students, this may mean less assessments overall, less bunching of assessments, and fewer assessments per module. This should also mean that feedback is more timely and meaningful. We want to  support future modules that attract a lot of interest and there will be more consistency for those students on combined programmes or taking electives. 

  • Support services
    It might also mean changes to how we provide our broader support services to students. For example, we have an opportunity to review the many ways in which we provide welfare and wellbeing support across the University. This would include exploring all the ways we can better combine and integrate our support across accommodation services, student life and wellbeing, and Colleges, as well as student support provided from central, department/school teams and student unions.

Core to all of this is ensuring that we protect the most important aspects of our student experience, and help students to access services in more simple and straightforward ways.

What this means for our staff

As well as reducing money spent on our operational costs - like our estate - it's clear that we also need to change the work for our staff and what they spend their time on. We also need to change how we organise ourselves, so that we can continue to run the University with fewer people, by offering colleagues the opportunity to take up voluntary severance. 

It's really important to us that any decisions staff make about leaving the University is voluntary. Voluntary severance means we want to hear from colleagues who may wish to retire early or have expressed an interest in leaving. 

Voluntary options

York has acted sooner than most to build our financial resilience, and has not needed to resort to the toughest measures - like general compulsory redundancy programmes - that a growing number of universities have introduced. 

We are determined to keep ahead of the curve.

This is why we have opened a voluntary scheme for colleagues, which runs until July 2024. Anyone who is funded by the University on a core contract can apply. 

We know people respond to change differently: some of these new working arrangements will come as an exciting opportunity for some, but others may not welcome the change and may wish to consider their voluntary options. 

Next steps

We’ll keep our plans under review as we measure how successful we have been in returning the University to a financial surplus. It’s really important we don’t take too long to get out of our current deficit.

York is one of only four universities to have won the top Gold Teaching Excellence Framework award and be in the top ten in the Research Excellence Framework (matched only by Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial), and we are acting now to preserve and protect the quality and impact of this teaching and research.