Silence: GCU Sports clubs lose out as Association quietly cuts staff roles

Higher education in Scotland continues to be a controversial and often widely debated issue; At GCU, this is no different.

In December 2016, Universities Scotland (a collective umbrella group for institutions across the country) told a Holyrood inquiry that public funding had been reduced by 12 per cent since 2010/11 and warned that universities were at “tipping point”.

The GCU Students’ Association 2016 accounts revealed that the university had been cut by 5% by the Scottish Funding Council. As a result, the Students’ Association block grant given by the university was cut by 5% to match this.

When asked, the Students’ Association said of the cuts:

“The Students’ Association has been reviewing its profile and expenditure levels to ensure they meet not only the needs of students today but the students that will be applying to GCU in years to come, in tandem with this we have also been ensuring that we articulate the significant impact we have on the student experience at GCU to the university and the wider community in Glasgow.”

The EDIT received confirmation from Robbie Stewart, the new chair of the GCU Sports Council, that the role of Sports Assistant had been cut by the Association. When asked, he said:

“The SA’s choice to remove the dedicated ‘Sports Assistant’ position was one that was not discussed with myself or any other members of the Sports Council prior to its decision. We were given no say in the matter, or the chance to voice our concerns, that will have severe consequences to the GCU Sport’s activities and infrastructure. The full-time ‘Sports Assistant’ position played a crucial role in the day-to-day activities of each of our 30+ sports clubs, of which these full-time demands have been passed over to the Activities Manager, who already has full time responsibilities.

Therefore, Sports in its entirety will suffer at GCU due to the lack of ability to provide the level of support it has in the past. The SA decided to keep the full-time ‘Societies Co-Ordinator’ instead. The two positions could’ve been converted to part-time positions to ensure both societies and sport clubs were hit equally due to cuts. Because of their decisions, the SA have shown that they show a bias towards societies over sports at GCU.”

A comparison of the recently updated Students’ Association staff organisational chart confirms that the role of Sports Assistant appears to no longer exist within the current Association staff framework. Other roles which no longer exist without an obvious replacement that did in the 2015 staff framework include: Student Voice Team Leader, Student Voice Co-Ordinator (both of which work with class representatives and School Officers), as well as a Student Advisor position.

In light of the publishing of these charts, we asked for the Students’ Association to confirm for all involved students which roles would not exist going forward, to put to bed any concerns or doubts they might have. Again, the Association declined to comment, as they are “not at liberty to discuss individual staff positions due to our staff/student protocol”.

The EDIT attempted to reach out to other student engagement areas such as societies and representation departments, but there was no contact information available for any involved students in responsible positions.

We also reached out for comment from the University; asking them for comment on the cuts they gave to the Students’ Association block grant and the resultant loss of staff support positions. A spokesperson said:

“We are proud of the work the Students’ Association does on behalf of GCU students and we recognise the important contribution it makes to the student experience and the welfare of everyone who studies here. 

Like other universities across Scotland we are facing efficiencies due to cuts in our core funding and this has resulted in challenges when setting budgets. The Students’ Association has presented an ambitious programme to the University and we are confident the Association has funding in place to deliver its priorities to the benefit of every student.”

The EDIT asked the university how the cuts would affect controversial annex campuses’ like GCU New York, but there was no response to this matter.

The only forum at which Student Association budgets are openly discussed and altered are within unpublished draft budgets which are only presented at Trustee Board as well as Executive Committee, the committee formed of the four annually-elected Full Time Officers.

With the organisation keeping a tight lid on staff positions and funding being strictly and privately discussed at only these Association forums – which have a grand total of four appointed students at trustee level – where then does any such cut backs as this get held accountable?

At the first meeting of Student Voice (the student governing body, similar to a student parliament) affiliation costs such as NUS and BUCs are part of the only regularly discussed financial papers, making-up a very small part of the overall budget.

Will at this meeting in October students finally hear the details of which staff member positions have faced the axe? Will there finally be reasoning given for these already divisive decisions?

Feature photo credit: Robert Wilson