A letter signed by more than 1,800 people has today been sent to Edinburgh University management to express “urgent and profound concern” over a financial system which left staff with no pay for weeks, suppliers’ bills unpaid and students at risk of homelessness.
Dozens of academics employed by the university are among signatories to the letter — a draft of which was seen by The Ferret — which claims that the university leadership has “abandoned them at a time of crisis”.
The letter, written by elected senate members, says that the failure of a payroll, human resources and finance system — called People and Money (P&M) — is causing “direct hardship” to students and staff and “significant long-term damage” to the university. The senate is the university’s supreme academic body.
Edinburgh University said it was “acutely aware” of the impact P&M is having on some staff and students, and apologised for the “disruption”.
The Ferret understands that problems with P&M started two years ago but issues increased over the summer when the university moved to the new centralised system. There are still delays to payments, causing problems for staff, students and suppliers. It has been claimed that some firms have stopped providing services to the university over unpaid bills.
The senate’s letter — addressed to the university’s principal, rector, and vice-principal of research — says: “We are alarmed not just by the financial and scholarly impacts, but also the human costs of the problematic implementation of P&M. These date back to well before the crisis of the last few months and have adversely affected academic and professional services staff and student mental and physical wellbeing.”
Concerns raised in the letter include delays to wages and stipends being paid, expenses not reimbursed, and issues with supplies and services which have impacted teaching.
The letter says: “Schools are unable to maintain the basic stocks of materials that are necessary to the routine function of research and teaching on campus, from office paper to IT equipment to laboratory chemicals to library materials; they have been unable to hire vehicles, ship essential research equipment, or use other necessary services.”
The problems have also led to a “loss of experienced staff” which has exacerbated staffing issues, according to the letter.
The signatories have called on senior management to support staff and “take responsibility for the disruption and hardship caused to date”. They have also called for a “credible plan to address complaints” and “financial compensation” for people who may have suffered financially due to delayed compensation or reimbursement.
A university source who asked not to be named said: “The problems are horrific. Students who have unpaid stipends are at risk of becoming homeless.” The source said people had not received supplies of chemicals, paper, software, or computing equipment and that individual staff are “owed thousands of pounds” in work expenses.
“We owe hundreds of thousands of pounds to small businesses throughout Edinburgh, putting livelihoods at risk during a cost of living crisis,” they added.
Another university source told The Ferret they had personally spoken with students and staff who have had salary and stipend payments delayed, reduced, or missing.
The source added that the letter was written collectively and signed by at least 75 elected academic members of the senate. They added: “The letter was opened to co-signatures and comments from the university community (verified by requiring a university login) on Thursday, and received approximately 1850 validated co-signatures before delivery.
“These signatures continue to come in. Over 600 comments endorsed and added further specific examples to support the claims in the letter.”
A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said a new finance system was recently implemented, which required it to “interrupt financial processing” for a period over summer, in order to “test the system and transfer huge volumes of data”.
The spokesperson added: “We have increased the number of people in our finance team who are working tirelessly to process the increased volume of outstanding invoices. The university prides itself in fostering good relationships with suppliers, and we are doing our best to ensure all payments are processed as quickly as possible.
“We are holding a number of staff meetings this week to listen to feedback and provide an update on our activities. We continue to communicate with our community to ensure they are aware of the work that is being undertaken to address their issues and how we are prioritising payments.”
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