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The University of Edinburgh’s finances have been thrown into chaos after the institution switched to a new centralised payments system, with reports of suppliers and PhD students not receiving money owed to them.
Academics based at the institution have claimed that research is “grinding to a halt” because of the problems, which saw new “significant purchases” suspended for nearly six weeks, leading to some laboratories starting to run out of supplies.
The university has apologised to those who have not received payments and promised that it is working to clear a backlog as soon as possible, but some claimed that they had been left with no money during the cost-of-living crisis.
It is understood that Edinburgh shut down its old financial system for a period in July and August to prepare for the switchover. Academics told Times Higher Education that problems with the new “people and money” system started almost immediately at the beginning of September.
While some payments have been unaffected – including the regular staff payroll – others, including to local contractors, have been delayed for several weeks.
One academic, who asked not to be named, said their department has been suspended from ordering by at least two suppliers because it had taken too long to pay invoices.
Several PhD students across multiple departments have reported not receiving stipend payments owed to them at the end of October, while there have also been long delays in receiving expenses.
“We think it’s unacceptable for staff to face delays in being paid what they’re owed for work they’ve done,” said Grant Buttars, the branch president of Edinburgh’s University and College Union branch.
“The university need to pull out all the stops to pay people so that they can pay their rent, bills and meet their financial commitments. With the cost-of-living crisis and year-on-year real term pay cuts, things are bad enough for university staff without the university holding onto their wages.
“It’s also time for the university to explain to staff and students exactly what’s happened and what steps they’re putting in place to resolve the issue, including recompensing staff who have suffered additional costs like overdraft changes or penalties for late payments through no fault of their own.”
A spokesman for the university said financial processing had been “interrupted” for a period over summer “to allow us to test the system and transfer huge volumes of data”.
“We apologise to any of our suppliers, students or staff who are experiencing a delay in payment. We have increased the number of people in our finance team who are working tirelessly to process the increased volume of outstanding invoices,” the spokesman said.
“The university prides itself in fostering good relationships with suppliers, and we are doing our best to ensure all payments are processed as quickly as possible.
“We are also acutely aware of the impact that this is having on some of our staff and students, and have apologised for the disruption. We will continue to communicate with our community to ensure they are aware of the work that is being undertaken to address their issues, and how we are prioritising payments.”
The spokesman said a “technical error”, unrelated to the university’s systems, was to blame for delays in stipend payments for some PhD students.
“This has now been resolved, and those students have been paid. We have apologised to those affected for the stress this has caused, and we are working to ensure this will not happen again,” he added.
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