The University of St Andrews is facing an “unknown horizon” as it anticipates a £14 million loss in its revenue due to the impact of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
University Quaestor and Factor Derek Watson recently revealed that the university is preparing for an uncertain future as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19 on the University’s income, exasperated by there being no sign of restrictions being fully lifted any time soon.
In an update to local councillors, it was revealed that the release of students from their university accommodation contracts at the start of the national lockdown last march resulted in a £10 million loss to the University’s typical residential business income. The University has suggested, however, that this figure could reach as much as £14 million by the end of this year.
This crucially comes almost a year after the principal of St Andrews, Professor Sally Mapstone, wrote to staff warning them that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered its worst financial crisis in “modern times”.
The majority of the student population were instructed not to return to St Andrews in a university update from the principal Professor Sally Mapstone on 10 February, with online teaching set to remain in place for the rest of the semester.
However, Mr Watson said that the University is hoping for conditions to improve soon and has called from more widespread testing to be made available in and around the town.
“We were delighted when we saw the community testing centre and asymptomatic testing set up, but we continue to push for wider testing of university staff and of the public, even on an asymptomatic basis.”
Nonetheless, Mr Watson concurred that there is still uncertainty surrounding the next academic year, describing it as an “unknown horizon”.
“We think it is likely the travel restrictions will persist, especially travel into Fife, into Scotland, into the UK, and while we did carefully manage that and students were catered for, we do think it will have an impact next year.”
The university has raised concerns on the possibility of St Andrews students seeking to claim financial complementation, due to the disruption of “normal” university life and teaching from COVID-19 over the past academic year.
Mr Watson has maintained that online teaching has been successful, while also stressing that the University has facilitated in-person teaching for those who need it most. Medical and science students and final year students who require physical access to university resources are among those who have been provided with in-person teaching.
He added that the University is “not anticipating funding claim for payback of fees”.
Furthermore, Mr Watson also explained that COVID-19 has impacted the University’s research efficiency, as social distancing and government restrictions have limited the number of people able to work in labs and access university resources.
Despite the negative financial impact of COVID-19 over the past academic year, Mr Watson highlighted the fact that applicant demand and retention levels have remained high. Furthermore, he also drew attention to the continuation of the university’s plans to grow.
Plans include new student accommodation at Albany Park and so-called “Gap Site 3” at the North Haugh, alongside the further development at the Eden Campus in Guardbridge. The development at the Eden Campus is part of the university’s ambitious carbon emissions plan. The University plans to become Carbon Net Zero by 2035, a decade ahead of the Scottish Government’s own targets.
Reparations to and work on the University’s Biomedical Sciences building damaged by fire in February 2019 are ongoing. The building, which typically houses approximately 100 members of staff and postgraduate students, it expected to fully reopen by the summer of 2022.