Cuts ‘cyclone’ could blow university away

Preston’s future as a university city is at risk as funding cuts have put the University of Central Lancashire in danger of closure, its chief Malcolm McVicar has warned.

In an emotional address the Vice-Chancellor told of his fears for the university’s future, saying: “Radical change is needed if we are going to survive.

“We have achieved a lot and I am buggered if they are going to destroy it.”

The UCLan boss told a packed lecture theatre of 500 staff to expect funding cuts of 90 per cent within three years. He said the university was at the centre of a “perfect storm”,with “heavy rain and wind this September” and a “full cyclone” by September 2014.

“I do not agree with government policy,” Dr McVicar said. “There is a real risk that it will damage our university.”

Speaking at an open staff meeting, the £279,000-a-year Vice-Chancellor set out budget reductions that will eclipse the cuts to the teaching budget last year, which caused 88 redundancies.

September will see more money shaved off the teaching budget, which could lead to further job losses. The research budget will also see major cuts, again likely to lead to redundancies.

No safety net’

Dr McVicar said: “I am hopeful we can achieve reductions without recourse to further job losses.

“By 2014 we will effectively be a private business, but we are light-years away from operating like a business.

“There is no safety net. No one is coming to save us.”

Chamber of Commerce policy director Hugh Evans is concerned for the university: “That is avery quick transition from public sector to private business. I don’t know whether three years is enough time.

“They will have to change how they do things or risk failure. The old ways of doing things are gone for good. There will be no more big cheques from central government.”

The university contributes more than £250 million a year indirectly to the local economy – so the risk of closure is of great concern to Preston.

Cllr Carl Crompton, of the University ward, told of his fear for the local economy, should UCLan close. “The university is the biggest employer in the area.”

“Not only that, but if we get fewer students there will be a knock-on effect. Students buy their books here; they shop for food and buy their beer. Imagine the effect on the pubs.

“If the university closed it would have a devastating effect on the city. Preston would be wiped off the map.”

HW Music shop manager Phil Crompton said he relied on students. “I could see our business on the brink of failure without the students,” he said.

“There is a scene created by students, which creates bands that come in and buy instruments.If all the students were gone, within a year our business may close.

“I think the city is a much better place for the students being here.”

An employee at Adelphi Street-based Checkers Taxi, who did not want to be named, said:“If the university closed it would reduce customer numbers by about 25 per cent, but we would have no worries. If the students were all gone we would be able to park and it would be a lot quieter.”

But Mr Evans gave a sobering analysis. “If the university were to close it would have a huge impact on Preston city centre.

“If you go into the centre outside of term time, many bars and clubs do not do any business. If we lost 30,000 students spending £6,000 a year then that would be devastating for businesses here.”

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