Vitality, wages: how universities try to manage

Posted September 22, 2022, 6:32 p.mUpdated September 22, 2022, 6:42 p.m

The decision of the University of Strasbourg may not be as widespread as several student organizations fear. The utility announced Monday that its building will be closed for an additional two weeks this winter to conserve energy while bills fly. There, electricity, gas and heating costs have increased from 10 million euros in 2021 to 13 million euros in 2022, and 20 million have been included in the provisional budget for 2023.

Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retailleau told the Assembly on Wednesday that there was no question of a mass restart of distance learning courses to cut energy costs after the pandemic. Classes will be “mostly” face-to-face this winter, he assured.

“There is no question of returning to distance education”

Obviously, the message got through. According to Guillaume Gelle, Vice-President of French Universities, “Measures to develop distance learning or to have modified leave periods are quite marginal”. The association, which brings together the presidents of the institutions, gathered in a general meeting on Wednesday evening.

“There is a real desire not to go back to the way we operate during the Covid crisis, where students are struggling,” he insists. In particular, “it will partially shift the energy bill to students’ homes, which will not solve the problem.”

Increases by 100%

But how to deal with bills that, according to French universities, will increase by 30-50% for 2022 and then 100% between 2022 and 2023, or even more for certain institutions? The situations differ according to each one’s energy mix, the way it procures or the number of research infrastructures it hosts. “But we see the bill at least doubling between 2022 and 2023,” notes Guillaume Gellé.

Most university presidents agreed Wednesday evening that they “probably can accept an increase in the bill” for 2022. But what puts the institutions in “difficulty” is the “collection” of other new accusations.

The rise in the index point was partially offset

The first is related to the 3.5% increase in the index score for civil servants. The measure has been implemented since July, but its compensation is planned only from 2023. In addition, universities do not know whether this will cover overtime and contract staff. However, it weighs heavily on their accounts.

There is no new payment to compensate for the mechanical increase in wages, nor for businesses to dispute, nor for telecommuting allowances. “There is a great principle, it is the principle that the decision-maker pays,” says Guillaume Gellé.

On energy, Sylvie Retailleau promised to provide “financial assistance” to individual universities. But on the condition that they first attract their “free” working capital, if any. “We will take the negative adjustment budget of the universities”, he said. But the government warned it “cannot justify aid” for businesses with working capital.

“Shrine” funds for energy prudence

Mobilize working capital? All university presidents remember the outcry caused by Hollande’s surprise government levy in 2015 during his five-year term. “We hear about the mobilization of free-floating capital, but there are very few of them,” comments Guillaume Gellé.

He explains that each enterprise has a commitment to work for fifteen days to deal with crises, but the rest of the time is used to finance investments. “Especially in the medium and long term to build a vigilance plan. It would be a bit antagonistic to use it to pay the energy bill. »

The goal set by the state should direct them to reduce energy consumption by 40% by 2030, and by 60% by 2050. To achieve this, university rectors call for “holy land” working capital. “But this will not be enough, French universities are already warning. “If the state does not help enterprises to renew energy, it will not achieve its goals, because universities make up 30% of the state’s real estate.”

An open message a few days before the presentation of the finance bill in the Cabinet of Ministers.

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