In light of our article analysing grants awarded last year by SUSU to student societies, we contacted VP Sports Steve Gore to ask about how SUSU funds societies, and some of the figures that have been brought to light. Wessex Scene would like to thank Steve Gore for being very helpful and responsive to our queries.
Wessex Scene: Steve, what can you tell us about how SUSU funds societies?
Steve Gore: Thank you for giving SUSU the opportunity to respond to these questions. We are a charity and we feel that the grants we offer to our affiliated Clubs and Societies are a tremendously positive opportunity to make their activities more accessible to students, and we are always happy to discuss this at length.
Firstly we feel that it’s important to note the distinction between funding and grants. Although the Union used to refer to our Clubs and Societies budget as ‘funding’ until as recently as 2016, we now describe what we offer as ‘grants’ because it is a more accurate term. All affiliated Clubs and Societies are invited to apply for our grants to help cover the cost of certain aspects of what they do, but there is no guarantee of any grants being awarded, and each application is considered individually on merit. We understand that awarding grants is not a perfect science, however we commit a considerable amount of staff time towards this to make sure we do it as fairly as possible.
As you might be aware, the University provides a factored block grant to the Union on an annual basis that is dependent on student numbers. Just before the start of the 2017/18 academic year, the University reduced our factored contribution. This, coupled with a drop in student numbers last year and this year, has meant that the Union has needed to find considerable savings, but we have always maintained our Clubs and Societies budget throughout this. We have had to make many tough decisions within the organisation over the last year, including making redundancies in our staff team, which shows how seriously we are committed to providing opportunities to students.
Over the last year the Union has worked hard to improve the way we award grants to make sure that the grants awarded have the most impact, but also so that clubs aren’t reliant on grants and have sustainable financial models. This has resulted in us working more closely with Clubs and Societies to support them in handling their finances and planning longer term, which has been a really positive outcome of the process. We are also hoping to expand our communications surrounding grants to highlight this aspect of what we do, and would love to work with Wessex Scene in future to spread the word.
WS: A total of 255 societies applied for grants last year, with 188 receiving a portion of the grant money. Some students may ask why all societies which apply for grant money don’t receive some funding?
SG: Many societies apply for grants that are outside of our guidelines. Although all Clubs and Societies are given guidance on how to apply to grants, we spend a lot of time making sure we allocate our grants towards the most detailed and strongest applications to ensure maximum impact of our budget. Additionally, we let all Clubs and Societies know in advance that there can be no expectation of being awarded grants and we would never promise them any award before our decisions are finalised.
WS: SUSU awarded a grand total of £259,993 in grant funding to student societies last year, although this only represented a third of what societies altogether asked for, why was this?
SG: We believe that the fact that we awarded £260,000 to Clubs and Societies last year is an incredibly positive statistic. It has led to us having one of the largest and most varied Clubs and Societies offer in the UK HE sector, along with recently being ranked 9th Nationally by the “WhatUni Student Choice Awards” for our Clubs and Societies offer. In addition to the grants we provide to affiliated Clubs and Societies, we also contribute £37,300 of our budget to Union Groups including groups like Medsoc and media. Wessex Scene is allocated a budget line which equals roughly 2% of the total grant budget.
Although we can’t approve everything that is asked for, we believe we provide enough grants to make a significant positive difference to our Clubs and Societies. It’s also worth noting that what our grant system lists as total grants requested is not the same as what clubs need to function. Many clubs speculatively apply for more than what they need under the presumption that we wouldn’t award them the full amount, not uncommon in any grant process.
WS: Only 14 societies received all of the money they asked for, with Jazz Band receiving the most of these. Could you tell us more about this?
SG: This statistic merely highlights that our Clubs and Societies apply for a wide range of grants for their variety of activities, and how widely the Union has to spread our available funds.
WS: Wessex Scene understands that, as of the end of June 2018, no Capital pot funds had been awarded from last year, with a total of £68,505 having been requested. Were any Capital grants awarded to societies in the end? (Editor’s Note: It is and was Wessex Scene‘s understanding that no Capital pot funds had been awarded as of the end of May 2018. This was incorrectly conveyed to SUSU and Steve Gore as the end of June 2018.)
SG: The actual amount awarded to Clubs and Societies for capital grant requests in the academic year 2017/18 was £17,137 across 8 societies. Capital grant applications are considered separately to other grants at a meeting of the SUSU Finance and Staffing board, which is a sub-committee of our Trustee board of Directors.
WS: Sports Development societies represented a third of all societies which applied for grants, although they received 75% of all grant money awarded by SUSU. What factors led to Sports Development societies receiving such a significant proportion of total grant funding?
SG: Whilst it is true that we award more grants to sports clubs than any other zone, this is because sports are inherently more expensive to provide than many other societies, and there is an expectation from students that we will provide a decent sporting experience for them during their time at University. In 2010 the University handed over the responsibility of providing sports to SUSU and with it an extra factored cost to our annual block grant, meaning that we had more money to allocate specifically to sports.
We have incredibly strict guidelines on what grants we award to sports clubs, however we still received over 750 grant applications from sports clubs in the last academic year, which were all individually considered by the Athletic Union Committee. Alongside this, sports clubs tend to have larger membership fees associated with them than the other zones that often exceed £100 a year even with Union contributions. We want to make these costs more reasonable for the students who want to take part in sport and the increased grant allocations reflects this.
WS: Similarly, Student Life societies represented 4% of all societies which applied for grant funding last year, but received only 1% of total grant funding awarded. Why was this the case?
SG: Many Student Life societies are smaller than the societies in other zones in terms of members, or they have lower membership fees and less expensive activities/objectives. Because of this, they sometimes don’t need to apply for grants or when they do the amounts are comparatively small. Our grant contributions take all of this into account when setting annual budgets and allocating grants to societies. Student Life is also a smaller zone, with only 19 societies represented.
WS: Finally, Education societies last year received the least money individually from grants, a mean average of £226 per society. Why was this the case?
SG: Similarly to Student Life societies, Education societies have comparatively lower membership fees associated to them or they have inexpensive objectives. We will only award grants that are reasonably appropriate for a society’s size and activity. In addition to this, only 36 grant applications were submitted by the Education zone in the last year and the budget was not fully allocated. The remaining budget was subsequently contributed towards activities in other zones.
WS: Wessex Sailing Club received the most grant money of any society last year, amounting to 5% of the total grant funding awarded by SUSU. It’s a notable figure, which some students may question the fairness of, how does SUSU justify it?
SG: Wessex Sailing Club is simultaneously one of the most expensive clubs to run but also our highest performing club. They have previously won the University World Yachting Championships and are currently ranked #1 in the UK in BUCS ranking for sailing, contributing 11.6% of our total BUCS points in the last year. Multiple alumni of the club have won Olympic medals in sailing leading to the University of Southampton being internationally renowned for our water sports offer. We feel that this is a justified cost to continue supporting our high performance in this area.
WS: In fact, overall last year, the top ten most well-funded by grants societies were all from the Sports Development zone. What’s the rationale behind this?
SG: Again this is due to the cost of sports and the expectations of students, and the reasons for this have hopefully been answered in our earlier responses.