Sheffield Hallam University is having to make difficult decisions to address financial challenges - Professor Liz Mossop
It is a university that takes its responsibility as a key anchor institution in both its city and region extremely seriously, as reflected in its leadership of the Civic University Network. It is also a university with bold equality, equity, diversity and inclusion ambitions and a strong emphasis on innovation and applied research. These values all align with my own and are consistent with the role I feel universities should play in society.
Universities have an overwhelmingly positive impact on Yorkshire. They support over 56,000 jobs, generate almost £3bn for the Yorkshire economy every year and bring a rich cultural diversity to our cities, not to mention the broader societal impact of their world-leading research. They teach 220,000 students each year, with a third originally from the region, producing around 75,000 highly skilled graduates annually. Despite this, it’s clear that universities across the country face significant financial challenges.
These challenges are not due to a sudden fall in appetite for higher education. In fact, Sheffield Hallam remains one of the most popular universities in the UK with over 35,000 students. But the combined financial impact of high inflation, rising pension costs and a significant year on year real-term reduction in funding through the static UK undergraduate tuition fees means that all universities are having to make difficult decisions.
This tight budget squeeze is accompanied by national policy measures which are discouraging many international students from studying in the UK. International recruitment has not only added to the diversity and richness of our universities and communities, but has also brought important income - reductions in the number of international students coming to study in the UK is compounding an already challenging financial context.
Even a self-confessed optimist like me can see that many universities are facing the most challenging context they have experienced for a long time.
A recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that public spending on university students in England is now back to 2011 levels – a historic low point. It’s clear that the next Government, regardless of political colour, needs to address this long-term challenge, given the critical role which higher education must play in our future success as a country. However, in the meantime universities must think innovatively about how to ensure continued success through our teaching, research, and innovation, so that they can all continue to have a positive impact for our students, staff and the wider region.
As someone who always looks forward, I arrived at Sheffield Hallam full of ambition and ideas, and a keen sense of responsibility to plan for the future, not just to the university community I lead, but also to the wider city and region. As you step out of Sheffield station, you will see that the University is investing in our estate and facilities, with a new landmark zero carbon ready campus development set to open in Sheffield City Centre later this year. As well as offering a new gateway for the city, this new development will ensure we continue to meet students’ needs for state-of-the-art teaching, learning and study spaces, and will additionally provide opportunities for partners, enterprise, research and innovation activities.
Our plans for the future also include a long-term strategy to diversify our income. We will be launching new online provision later this year and we also aim to begin delivering courses in our new campus in North West London from 2026. Both these initiatives underpin our future growth and development as a university, but also generate new opportunities here in Sheffield.
Inevitably, ambitious future plans do not remove the need for more immediate decisions to address the financial challenges we face now. At Sheffield Hallam, as is the case at an increasing number of other universities, this includes some reductions in staff numbers, reducing spending in non-essential areas, and consulting on changes to some of our structures. This isn't easy. But my overriding priority will be to successfully negotiate these necessary changes with care and compassion, whilst being transparent and inclusive right across our university community.
There is genuine good reason for optimism. Our award-winning staff are equipping graduates to be the lifeblood of organisations right across the region. Our research and innovation are having a real-world impact and attracting local investment. Our collaborative partnerships are galvanising the positive civic impact we can and do make across our region.
What I hope for the future is a more positive, supportive context in which our universities, and students, can thrive.
Professor Liz Mossop is vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.