Major Cost Cutting at CU: Building Renovations and Academic Information System Replacement to be Postponed
Bratislava, 7 May 2020: Comenius University has adopted several measures to save money. The university’s investment plans and the renovation of buildings, including the dormitories, are particularly affected. The university has also had to cancel the long-planned public tender for a new academic information system.
By: CU Public Relations Office
Slovakia’s largest university - Comenius University in Bratislava - has already felt the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, which will probably be ongoing. Revenues from the state budget cover only about 70% of the university's costs, with the rest being met by revenue from the university’s business activities as well as other sources. However, a large of this income has dried up due to the economic impacts caused by the pandemic. The closure of the dormitories on its own represents an income shortfall of hundreds of thousands of euros for the university. In addition, the university is expecting a fall in income from tuition fees from international students as well as a drastic shortfall in income from its business activities; the closure of business operations has affected the university’s commercial tenants, who are unable to pay the agreed rent.
The most significant saving measures will be seen in the postponement of the renovations to university buildings, several of which have been in critical condition for some time. Extensive renovations were planned for the dormitories at the Mlyny campus, specifically high-rise Block B and the three blocks of the Atrium Houses, as well as for the building housing the Faculty of Education on Šoltésovej Street. At present, all of these projects are at risk of not going ahead.
Another measure is the stopping of the public tender for a new academic information system. The current AiS2 system has been used by the university since 2009. The university executive resumed discussions on replacing the information system and had announced a tender for the provision of a more modern information system. The new system was to improve the electronic communication with students and simplify support processes overall. "Despite the amount of work that has gone into preparing a new information system, in this situation of financial uncertainty, we cannot afford to commit hundreds of thousands of euros to it if we do not even know if we will have enough financial resources to cover the core operations of the university in the second half of this year," said the Comenius University Rector, Marek Števček. The university continues to count on the modernization of the information system, but only after the financial situation has been stabilized.
Another saving measure has been the reduction of personnel costs at the Rectorate as well as at the faculties and other university centres. The adverse financial situation has most affected the activities of the university’s self-managed Centre for Further Education. This centre has primarily focused on the internationalization of the university and the fulfilment of the university’s social role through the education of senior citizens and lifelong learning. As a result of the halting of these activities, the centre has found itself in a critical situation. Therefore, due to a more efficient management structure and particularly a significant reduction in operating costs, the centre will be transferred to the Rectorate. Unfortunately, the centre has had to terminate several positions.
The funding of the ACCORD scientific project is also in serious danger. This is a joint project with the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava which focuses on the modernization of research infrastructure, the renovation of buildings, and the strengthening of scientific capacities. Both universities were to invest 111 million euros over four years, which would be the largest investment in the history of Slovakia in the academic environment. However, the current situation and the possible reallocation of funds within individual operational programmes may seriously jeopardize the fulfilment of the project’s expected objectives.
"Funding for university education was under strain even before this crisis. Now we have to prepare for the fact that we have really hard times ahead of us. As the rector, I am responsible for fulfilling the main mission of the university. We must focus on developing our scientific capacities. After all, Slovakia would not have managed the crisis so far without our doctors, pharmacists, epidemiologists, virologists, psychologists, researchers, and other experts," said Rector Števček. "Postponing the development projects is the only sensible step at the moment, and it seems to be a necessary one. However, I must also say that we had expected the opposite trend: namely, the strengthening of the funding of research universities and institutions such as the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Society has had a chance to be see that it is thanks to quality work by Slovak scientists that we have been able to manage the pandemic. However, we are actually seeing negative trends in the form of a reduction in the income of research universities. And this is why I am calling for support for the science that is keeping our heads above water."