Questions over Ulster Uni’s ‘massive reserves’

The Ulster University Magee campus, Derry. DER3115MC002
The Ulster University Magee campus, Derry. DER3115MC002

Questions have been raised over why Ulster University’s growing millions in surplus assets are not being used to off-set cuts and advance the expansion of Magee.

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper, and member of the Magee Court forum, said he was alarmed after figures contained in the Ulster University financial report for the year to the summer of 2014 showed a huge increase in financial reserves for the university.

Magee, Derry. DER3115MC001

Magee, Derry. DER3115MC001

Ulster University’s latest available Annual Report and Financial Statements states that ‘current net assets’ have more that doubled over the course of the previous year to £71.3m.

Group net assets meanwhile rose by £21m to £283m, while reserves similarly increased by £19.8m to £185m.

The report states that the University’s Financial Strategy involves aiming to generate “a cash surplus of £10m per annum from Operating Activity to support investment in capital works, improve the University’s overall liquidity and create a cash reserve fund to support the Greater Belfast Development plans”.

Mr Cooper however questioned why this money was not being used to secure lands for the Magee expansion or prevent jobs and courses being done away.

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper.

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper.

Mr Cooper said: “There is a massive cash reserve and other capital assets that are not being used. I am concerned that the amount of money available could be used to alleviate the pressure from budget cuts but this is not happening.”

Mr Cooper said: “They have chosen to spend assets in Belfast and there are other monies sitting in the coffers. I would be concerned that it seems they are running this place as a business first rather than an educational institution. The bottom line is they can’t cry poverty to the Executive but not be prepared to put their money where their mouth is.”

Mr Cooper, who has completed three degrees at Magee, added: “While I understand these reserves cannot be used to increase student numbers or raise the Maximum Student Numbers (MaSN) cap, you would have thought that the University would have ring-fenced the money to buy the lands at Foyle College but they haven’t done it.”

Mr Cooper said his colleague Maeve McLaughlin MLA would be raising the issue with Ulster’s Vice-Chancellor Paddy Nixon over the coming weeks.

The Journal contacted Ulster University and asked a series of questions regarding their reserves.

A spokesperson responded: “Ulster University is following appropriate and best practice financial guidelines by maintaining a percentage of cash reserves. Our 2014 accounts show a planned increase in cash reserves, mainly to allow sufficient financial flexibility to support future infrastructure and estates developments across our campuses, but also to ensure our long term cash holdings are closer to sector benchmarks.”