Queen’s passes on funding cuts to its poorest students

Queen's University Belfast
Queen's University Belfast

Queen’s University is choosing to pass on drastic funding cuts to some of its poorest students, leading to a backlash from student leaders.

The News Letter can reveal that the Province’s leading university has cut bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds by almost 70 per cent over four years.

But when asked by this newspaper if vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston was considering a cut in his personal salary of £249,000 a year to share the financial pain, the university declined to respond.

Three years ago, students whose parents’ income was less than £19,203 received £1,210 in each year of study. But from September, those same students will receive just £380.

Queen’s student councillor Sarah Wright said that the bursaries were important for allowing students to stay in higher education and improving their social mobility.

“I’m shocked that Queen’s University has targeted students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, the most vulnerable student group, by reducing bursaries to such a drastic extent,” she said.

Queen’s defended the cuts to student bursaries, saying that the decision was made in line with Department for Employment and Learning policy on widening participation and comes as a result of substantial cuts in funding. A Queen’s spokesman said: “These actions will partly mitigate the full impact of the budget cuts on student intakes and, in steady state, protect approximately 380 undergraduate places.”

Currently all higher education institutions in Northern Ireland are expected to spend at least 20 per cent of their income from tuition fees on widening participation among groups under-represented in higher education.

However, the department has recently reduced the minimum spend to 10 per cent, enabling Queen’s to further reduce the bursaries.

Last month the university announced that upwards of 1,000 student places will be lost over the coming years as a consequence of an £8 million reduction in funding from the department.

In addition to that, 230 members of staff are expected to avail of a voluntary severance scheme. The reduction in student places would cause a loss of approximately £3.7 million of tuition fee income.

Queen’s Students’ Union president Ciaran Gallagher said that the union will campaign on the issue. He said that financial hardship is a common reason for students dropping out of courses.

“The Students’ Union has significant concerns as to the impact decreasing bursary funds will mean to students with limited access to financial resources and support mechanisms,” he said.

In February Sinn Fein’s branch at Queen’s University held a protest against vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston’s £249,000 per year salary and expenses.

Protest organiser Joseph Donaghy has suggested that the vice-chancellor should consider taking a large pay cut to protect student bursaries.

“Giving the vice-chancellor a £19,000 pay hike from the previous VC was reflective of a massive problem within the university. The university doesn’t seem to care about the students, whether that be their education or their standard of living.”