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The cost of Covid

The University's £364,000 of additional costs spent on Covid measures

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Image Credit: KlausHausmann

It is common knowledge that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has caused an increased level of financial insecurity. The University is no exception to this. For example, last year Nouse exclusively leaked that the University predicted an income loss of 100m due to the pandemic. Nouse’s research via Freedom of Information Requests has highlighted yet another strain to the University’s budgets, this being the added costs of protective equipment and products, as well as added technological services, due to teaching being moved online.

The data Nouse has received from the University spans across roughly ten months, from June 2020 to Spring Term this year. The data underlines the staggering extra costs of Covid-19, which have been vital to making campus safe for students and staff this year. The University could not provide us with any costs for specific items from previous years, as prior to the pandemic, numbers were not recorded for individual items. For example, the cost of items such as hand sanitizer would not be separated from the cost of hand soap and other similar items. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that in previous years, the University’s costs for these items would have been significantly lower, especially for things like protective masks and shields. The data we have exposes the staggering £84,586 spent on hand sanitiser alone over the past year.

The University told us that this number ‘relates to the costs of purchasing gel or liquid hand sanitiser in 100ml, 500ml and 5l sizes’. They also told us that the hand sanitiser stations around campus were not purchased but were instead, ‘made in-house.’

The amount spent on other chemical products to protect campus’ hundreds of surfaces and desk spaces builds upon this overall cost, as Nouse was also told that the University a massive £54,707 on antibacterial spray. Together, alongside the amount for hand gel and sanitiser, this equates to £139,293 spent on chemical products alone. Over this data’s ten month period, that is just under £14,000 spent per month on these items.

The data for worn protective equipment builds upon this heavy price, with the University telling us that they spent £50,086 on disposable masks. Comparatively, we also asked the University how much they spent on reusable masks, which came in at the significantly lower cost of £16,524. Given the University’s frequent promises to improve York’s environmental impact, it seems counter-intuitive to spend considerably less on masks that can be reused, which, therefore, have a lesser impact on the environment. We asked the University why they spent significantly less on reusable masks than disposable ones. Their spokesperson told us:

“The University is committed to using sustainable products, however sometimes disposable masks are the most hygienic or otherwise recommended option. For example, certain clinical settings also require the use of disposable masks over reusable ones.”

Another disposable item which the University has spent a considerable amount on are gloves, with £42,924 spent on them this past year. Despite their potentially adverse effect on the environment, items such as disposable gloves have been instrumental in ensuring that staff and students remain safe on campus. We asked the University to comment on why it is so important that this protective equipment be purchased. They said:

“Protective equipment and hand sanitiser are key control measures that we have implemented on campus to help stop the spread of covid. Alongside social distancing, we believe that the really high compliance of the “hands - face - space” measures by both staff and students are a key reason why we continue to see no transmission of covid within teaching and learning spaces on campus.”

York is not the only university to have spent staggering amounts on Covid-19 hygiene and safety products. A report by Research Professional News conducted a similar investigation, breaking down the individual costs for each university.  Our Russell Group neigbour, the University of Leeds, is reported to have spent similar amounts though across a smaller time-frame of seven months. They spent “£236,000 on cleaning materials and personal protective equipment, £215,000 on cleaning equipment and dispensers, £102,000 on sanitiser”.

Additionally, York has not simply outsourced protective equipment but has also constructed their own equipment in-house. For example, the majority of protective screens around campus have been made by the University, with only £585 spent on outsourced ones, and £16,099 spent on materials such as perspex and acrylic sheets for in-house constructed screens. The same can be said for protective visors which the University tells us were mostly constructed in their ‘science based workshops’, with only £1350 spent on out-sourced visors.

The University could not provide us with the full data for how much extra they spent on 4G MiFi devices for staff and students with connection issues, as the cost data is not yet available. However, they did tell us that they spent approximately £85,000 in providing 4G capable mobile connections to staff.
We also asked for the data regarding the price of replay capture for this year and the past five years. Interestingly, for the first time since 2016/17, the University’s expenditure for this has risen by £12,187, from an annual cost of £49,950 to £59,137. Accumulatively, from simply the numbers discussed in this article, the University has spent an extra £364,000 on Covid expenses over a recent ten month period. Per month, that is just under £40k at £36,400. This demonstrates just how easily seemingly low-priced items such as masks and sanitiser can ‘add up’. However, the actual number for this will be higher, as we do not have the data for this term nor did we ask for every extra purchase the University has made because of Covid.

Nevertheless, this highlights that it is not simply the loss of income which threatens the University’s finances, but the large extra costs which Covid has brought.
Nouse asked YUSU President, Patrick O’Donnell, regarding these findings. We asked for YUSU’s response to this staggering figure, asking whether he believes enough has been done to make campus safe. He commented that:

“Although this is a high figure, ultimately it has been needed to keep both staff and students safe, allowing for all students to be provided with masks and for adequate cleaning processes to take place. The increased spending is also as a result of the delivering of extra cleaning supplies to all shared bathrooms and kitchen in on-campus accommodation.

“The University has made every reasonable effort to make campus Covid safe including being actively involved in setting up testing sites for staff, students, the wider community and NHS staff. Arguably, this money could have been spent more efficiently if the Government had acted proactively in outlining it’s guidance for Universities, reducing the need to plan and equip for multiple Covid-related eventualities.

“The University, like all of us, have had to respond quickly to ever-changing Government guidance, keeping facilities open and safe for student use"

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