London's reorganisation beset with financial woes

Delay to planning permission for works at Senate House slows progress, writes Rebecca Attwood.

February 7, 2008

The University of London has reported cash-flow difficulties midway through a programme to reduce the number of buildings it occupies and to downsize its administrative structure.

Under the plans, the university will eventually occupy just five buildings of the original 18.

Eight of the ten postgraduate research institutes that make up its School of Advanced Study are in the process of leaving satellite sites across Bloomsbury and relocating to the university's historic hub, Senate House, which is undergoing refurbishment.

Delays caused by problems gaining listed building consent mean the completion date is almost two years behind schedule. Five institutes are still housed in provisional accommodation.

At the end of the financial year, the university recorded a deficit of nearly £12 million and net current liabilities of £21 million.

Financial statements for 2006-07 acknowledge that this has put a strain on the university's liquidity but say that, since the end of the financial year, this position has been "substantially mitigated" through the sale of £5 million worth of property and the restructuring of bank loans.

Richard Cryer, the university's financial director, said the imminent sale of more of the university's estate would release another "substantial" capital sum. The university forecasts that it will be back in surplus in the financial year 2008-09.

In Russell Square, several buildings have been taken on by the School of Oriental and African Studies, others will go to Birkbeck College, and the university's computing centre will be taken on by University College London.

The refurbishment of Senate House is now due to be completed in 2009.

"This will return the major part of the building to use as an academic resource," said Mr Cryer.

He said the administrative part of the university had "significantly downsized" and continued to do so.

The four other buildings that will remain in use are Stewart House, the Warburg Institute, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the University of London Union.

Meanwhile the Higher Education Funding Council has agreed to increase funding for the School of Advanced Study by 10 per cent, following a fundamental review of its work.

The review, by Sir Ivor Crewe, said the school's long-term financial position was "untenable" and needed to be addressed "as a matter of urgency". It recommended that Hefce increase its funding of the school by £600,000 in 2008-09, in return for "far-reaching" governance reform of the school.

The review also warned that delays to the renovation of Senate House might have adversely affected the institutes' financial performances and planning.

New governance arrangements for the University of London, which will hand more power to its colleges, are due to come into effect this summer.

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