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Energy, wages: how universities are trying to balance

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

The decision of the University of Strasbourg will probably not spread, which was feared by several student organizations. The organization announced Monday it will close its premises for the next two weeks this winter to conserve energy before its bill takes off. Expenditure on electricity, gas and heating there has increased from 10 million euros in 2021 to 13 million in 2022, and 20 million is included in the budget provision for 2023.

After the pandemic, there is no question of a massive resumption of distance learning courses to reduce energy bills, Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retailleau told a rally on Wednesday. This winter, classes will be “mostly” face-to-face, she assured.

“Returning to distance learning is out of the question”

Obviously, the message got through. “Measures that would consist of the development of distance learning or modulated holidays are quite marginal,” said Guillaume Gellé, vice-president of French universities. The association, which brings together the presidents of the establishments, met for a general meeting on Wednesday evening.

“There is a real desire not to go back to the operating methods we experienced during the Covid crisis and with which students had a lot of problems,” he insists. Especially since “that would partially shift the energy bill to the students’ homes, which wouldn’t solve the question.”

100% increase

But how to deal with bills that, according to French universities, will increase by 30 to 50% by 2022, then by 100% between 2022 and 2023, or even more for some facilities? The situations differ depending on each one’s energy mix, purchasing method or number of research infrastructures it operates. “However, between 2022 and 2023, we see at least a doubling of the bill,” clarifies Guillaume Gellé.

Most university presidents agreed Wednesday night that they “could probably absorb the bill increase” for 2022. But it is the “accumulation” with other new fees that puts businesses “in trouble”.

The increase in the index point is partially compensated

The first concerns the increase of the index point for civil servants by 3.5%. The measure has been in effect since July, but its compensation is not planned until 2023. In addition, universities do not know whether it will cover extra hours and contract employees. However, this will weigh heavily on their accounts.

Nothing is planned to offset the mechanical pay rise, businesses say, or the telecommuting allowance, another new charge. “There is a great principle that whoever decides pays,” said Guillaume Gellé.

On energy, Sylvie Retailleau promised to “financially assist” universities on a case-by-case basis. But on the condition that they first draw on their “free” working capital, if they have any. “We assume a negative corrective budget of the universities,” she indicated. But the government cannot “justify aid” for facilities that have working capital available, it warned.

“Sanctuary” funds for energy sobriety

Mobilize working capital? All university presidents remember the outrage over the government levy that surprised them in 2015, during Hollande’s five-year term. “We hear about the mobilization of free working capital, but there is very little of it,” comments Guillaume Gellé.

Each establishment has an obligation to ensure fifteen days of operation to resolve crisis situations, but the rest is used to finance investments, he explains. “And especially to build a sobriety plan in the medium and long term. Using it to pay the energy bill would be a bit antagonistic. »

The goal set by the state must lead them to reduce energy consumption by 40% by 2030 and by 60% by 2050. In order to achieve this, university presidents require “shelter” working capital. “But that will not be enough,” French universities warn. If the state does not help facilities with energy renovation, it will not achieve the goals it has set, because universities represent 30% of the state’s real estate assets.”

A clear message a few days before the submission of the bill on finances in the MoL.

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