SU block grants on the rise, but CUSU is lagging behind

Hazel Shearing 24 April 2014

Last week, NUS Vice-President Rachael Mattey criticised a growing national trend where students’ unions receive larger block grants from universities, but lose their spending power. However, this academic year saw CUSU’s first year of significant university funding for the running of the Students’ Union.

CUSU has received £2,020 in ‘unrestricted funding’ from the University for this academic year, compared to £38,956 in ‘restricted funding’. ‘Restricted’ means that the union’s spending is placed under the authority of the University.

Despite this year’s £39k of ‘restricted’ University money CUSU is an exception to the rule. This is the first year in CUSU’s history that it has received such funding from the University.

In previous years CUSU has operated without University funding, other than small allocations for University-employed staff and the premises on New Museums Site and specific funding for the Student Advice Service. It has survived predominantly by charging college affiliation fees (£102,000 in the 2012/13 budget) and on its commercial publications.

The fact remains, though, that the funding increase from the University this year is restricted. According to Mattey, this type of funding undermines the democratic nature and independence of students’ unions. Speaking to the Times, she said, “We are finding cases of universities trying to restrict [unions] – saying that they will give them money, but that things have to be done a certain way. That’s something that is very uncomfortable, that we shouldn’t be allowing.”

Dom Weldon, CUSU’s Coordinator, believes that funding in whatever form – restricted or otherwise – is a step forward. He told The Cambridge Student, “As we launch CUSU’s first strategic plan, and seek to move from our current office space to a larger building, allowing us to offer more services to students, we hope that we’ll continue to build relationships with the University, whilst maintaining our own independence.”

Ultimately, though, the lack of a block grant that other SUs across the country receive is a significant issue for CUSU, as is evident in the current budget report: “Acquiring a block grant from the University and changing CUSU’s funding structure remains a key campaign priority going forward into next year.”