Report suggests that staff income remains low down on universities' agenda

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The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has reported that staff costs at UK universities have dropped to their record lowest proportion of total income - 52.9%, which is 6.54% lower than the 2009/10 fiscal year.

University incomes, as well as capital expenditure, have continued to increase over the same period; the total reserves of universities in the UK have tripled to £44.27 billion from £12.33 billion back in 2009/10. At the same time total annual income increased by 2.7%, standing at £35.7 million as of 2016/17. Income from tuition fees in particular increased by 5.5%. The capital expenditure of universities has hit a new high, up 34.90% since 2009/10.

The University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, Sally Hunt, has criticized universities for prioritizing the investment in buildings over staff, claiming that it "makes a mockery of claims that staff are a top priority and also suggests they ignore what students say they want". UCU are currently in pay talks with university representatives, after strikes earlier this year affecting universities across the country.

Critics have also pointed out the discrepancy between university reserves and low staff wages, as well as the benefits of vice-chancellors – the ‘pay and perks’ of which Hunt describes as having "long been a source of embarrassment for higher education".

However, ambitious expansion plans for university architecture have not only been criticized for their high costs, which have been reported as extreme – in 2016 the Financial Times reported UCL signing the biggest bank loan in British university history on a £1.25 billion expansion project – but for its unsustainability. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has warned the sector that increasing borrowing and reduced liquidity could be potentially financially dangerous.

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