The ‘overnight‘ discovery ofa deficit of £5.45m, allegations of an administrative cover-up and angry calls for the boss‘s head belong more to the world of big business than higher education. Nevertheless, these are the ingredients of a hard-hitting motion to be placed before a General Meeting of Edinburgh University Students Association on Thursday 6 February. The motion,
proposed jointly by EUSA‘s Student
Representative Council and Committee of
condemns the University‘s handling of its current
proposes a nationwide media campaign to dissuade potential applicants from studying at Edinburgh ‘unless positive moves to substantially increase this year‘s grant to the student unions are made‘ demands the resignation of Principal, Sir David Smith, and Secretary, Dr Martin Lowe, for their part in an administrative cover-up surrounding the
University‘s financial mismanagement.
At a time when the University‘s policy of ‘across the board‘ cuts has threatened the future ofentire departments, the students‘ motion may well be seen as petty and immature. However, a national study on student poverty, carried out by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and presented last week to parliament indicated that cuts to student union funding would have drastic long-term effects. The report concluded that the recession, benefit cuts and a dearth of vacation jobs were causing unprecedented distress
for many students and that most were getting by ‘thanks to the efforts ofour student union
This is also the view of EUSA President Jeff Liston. ‘It seems the most bitter of ironies that in this time of financial hardship, one member of the CVCP — our own Principal - is championing a policy ofgreater cuts to student unions than to any other part ofthe University.’ he said. ‘Students are also suffering increased prices in University- owned accommodation, cuts in academic departments and the library‘s resources are stretched to their limits. A substantially reduced quality ofeducation and reduced standard of living have combined to make Edinburgh University plainly unattractive to potential applicants.‘ One department particularly under threat is Scottish History, as the University has indicated that the Chair will not be filled on the retirement of the current Professor. A separate motion before the meeting calls for a campaign to safeguard the Department, noting in particular the effect the loss would have on Scotland‘s national identity.
EUSA‘s argument over funding stems from an agreement between the Students Association and
Edinburgh University's ow
the University, made in 1981 , that the Unions should ‘share the fortunes of the University‘ in relation to grant allocation. However, in the decade of overspend that led to the discovery of a £5.45m deficit in late 1990, the University‘s administration expenditure rose by 139.2 per cent, while the corresponding increase for student unions was only 56.4 per cent. Student leaders contend that this proves the unions did not benefit from the overspend and that students are now being asked to pay from their own pockets to relieve a deficit of the University‘s own making. Students themselves are probably less interested in the statistics than the fact that, in order to maintain welfare services at a time when they are most needed, the price of a pizza in the union cafe is now £1.20 rather than the £1 .05 it would be if the full grant was awarded.
‘As the Principal and Secretary are the two main officers of the University‘s senior management, they are the equivalent of the Chairman of the Board and the Managing Director ofa large business enterprise,‘ continues Liston. ‘As the Principal oversaw the deficit from a very early stage and continuously misled the public. university staff and students on the matter, and as the Secretary‘s of fiee was responsible for the ensuing cover-up of how the financial crisis developed, it seems entirely appropriate that their resignations should be requested.‘
It is the effectiveness ofthe financial controls and the extent of public accountability that must be addressed by the University. When exactly did the Principal become aware of the extent of the deficit? According to minutes ofthe University Court meeting of 14 May 1990, he claimed it was ‘some £1 m‘; after a leak to the press in October 1990, he admitted it was ‘well over £3m‘. As late as December 1991 he was maintaining that the problem was caused by underfunding and an ‘administrative hiccup‘. Now that it is known that the deficit was actually £5.45m, that hiccup begins to sound like rather a lot ofwind. (Alan Morrison)
I Saltire Society Awards: Duncan Macmillan‘s extensive survey of the history of Scottish painting, Scottish Art: 1460—1990 (Mainstream), is the winner ofthe 1991 Saltire Society‘s £5,000 prize for Scottish Book of the Year. Taking the £1 .500 top prize in the Scottish First Book of the Year category was A.L. Kennedy‘s short story collection Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains (Polygon).
I Young Homeless: Martin Evans, Director of Shelter (Scotland), met with the All Party Homelessness Group in the House of Commons last Thursday to discuss the problem of young homeless Scots in London. Scots account for approximately 20 per cent of the capital‘s homeless. The majority of MPs present agreed with the housing charity that responsibility for the problem lies with lack of housing and job opportunities north of the border, with only a few maintaining that families were at fault. The Group will meet again in six months‘ time to discuss the progress that has been made.
I Gay Awareness Week: Edinburgh University Lesbian and Gay Society is holding a Gay Awareness Week from 8—15 Feb with a series ofevents covering political and social issues
aimed, not only at students, but at the general public as well. Further details will unfold at the society‘s informal weekly meetings at 7pm in the Pleasance Bar, which are open to all interested parties.
I Films Going Cheap!: Edinburgh's Cameo cinema has cut its ticket price for claimants, students, children under 15 and senior citizens to 99p at all first afternoon screenings. seven days a week.
I Dolphin Dive-In: Greenpeace is organising a series of sponsored swims during February and March at venues from Dingwall to Dunoon in order to help save endangered dolphins. One ofonly two resident dolphin populations in UK waters is in the Moray Firth. and overfishing and pollution are serious threats to their wellbcing. Further details and sponsor forms from Sue Hollands, 11 Townhead, Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, KA25 7A2 (0505 684453).
Ftetleg so» time on his hands since political changes hack in the 0888 (or Sis as It is
ie toothall Iris at least). toner Soviet suprer Mikhail Gorbachev - or rather his Spitting Image coeebrpart - dropped in hi laeech the Edlnhurgh Science Festival's schools Megan-e. The Festival takes place trots 11-25 April.
Amnesty lnternational‘s vital role in aiding the release of prisoners of conscience around the world was strengthened in Scotland last week with the opening of their first Scottish Office at Regent House, 9 Union Street, Edinburgh EH1 3LT.
In case anyone remained in doubt about the value of the organisation’s letter writing campaigns, the Malawian poet Jack Mapanje was present at the opening. He was feted by delegates from Scotland’s 34 Amnesty groups who helped get him released after three years, seven months and sixteen days in prison.
‘That signature, that letter, that tom of protest does have an impact on any regime which is tough on human rights,’ he said. ‘Somehow those notes and postcards you send do have an iniluence.’
Scottish coordinator, Ruth Adler, hopes that the Scottish membership will rise to 8000 by the end of the year. New members will be particularly welcome in the Adoption Groups who sometimes write to one prisoner tor as long as ten years. ‘They are the sharp end at Amnesty lnternational's work', she said, ‘they are the people who actually get the prisoners out.’ (Thom Dibdinl
4 The List 31 January — 13 February 1992