QMUL Invests in "ChargeBoxes" – but at what cost?

QMUL Invests in “ChargeBoxes” – but at what cost?

Twenty “ChargeBox” phone charging stations have been installed on QMUL campuses over the summer, allowing students whose devices have run out of power to recharge them securely using the in-built cables. The “ChargeBox 3” stations are sturdy, stylish and constructed in the UK, and have become a common sight in large buildings like airports and shopping centres since the company launched in 2005. Students may recognise them from the Westfield shopping centres in Stratford and White City, whose managing group were one of the first investors convinced by the manufacturer’s confident advertising material. ChargeBox’s internal research asserts the stations’ ability to “increase footfall and dwell time” and claims they are proven to “increase customer spend and basket size”. Quite how this research was done is not clear, but evidently QMUL believes the stations will be useful to developing a campus atmosphere, presumably aimed at the large proportion of students who commute and don’t have ready access to charging facilities nearby.

What is surprising is the amount of money that QMUL has invested in their ChargeBox stations. The total spend on the twenty stations the university has had installed, the majority of which are in the Mile End campus, was £119,005. Surely academic department restructuring and budget restrictions could put this money to better use by hiring more staff, or financing the crucial research for which we have received Russell Group status? That £119,005 fee works out at around £5,950 per station, and the concentration of these stations in Mile End concentrates that investment, with a disproportionate £83,300 of the money going to QM students versus only £29,750 spread across three Barts campuses. From a different angle, had the funds allocated to this project been divided up between the student-run sports clubs, which contribute so much to QMUL’s student environment, each would have received an extra £2,975 in this years’ budget. They could then have invested this in the facilities, training and equipment that are crucial for them to compete in BUCS leagues, representing QMUL around the country. I know that I would be very happy if the QM sports club I belong to had an extra £2,975 to spend training the students who compete for us.

If the misallocation of resources has not become clear already, let us have a look at exactly what service these ChargeBoxes provide. Each “ChargeBox 3” station has six boxes, five of which can charge both Apple and Android devices, and the top one only Apple. The reasons for this are not apparent, prioritising as they do those in possession of more expensive Apple devices, but the principal issue with these stations should already be evident. QM boasts on their “facts and figures” page of an enrolled population of 26,000 students of whom 4,000 study abroad. This leaves 22,000 students who study in London to some capacity. Multiple university sources confirm numbers in this area, including the official World University Rankings page, where QM claims its London campuses are “home to more than 20,000 students”. All of these students pass through and make use of the campus facilities where these ChargeBoxes have been installed. Twenty ChargeBoxes, each holding six devices maximum, can serve a grand total of 120 students at once. This is a tiny fraction of the total student population, about 0.55%, for which we have all collectively paid £119,005. Presumably, however, this investment was not intended for all students – otherwise the paucity of ChargeBoxes on Barts campuses would begin to look negligent. So then why was £119,005 invested in devices that a significant proportion of students will never get a chance to use? Why was this money not spent on the worthy causes that benefit all those studying here, like the academic departments from which every student gains?

More questions stem from the rest of the data the university has provided. Why was £7,000 spent on “customised branding” for only twenty stations? Must the £8,300 annual running costs of the twenty stations be paid for the devices’ entire service life, and how long is this?  Does this mean that QMUL will be paying almost the entirety of someone’s tuition fees to ChargeBox every year until they realise their mistake and scrap the stations? Was the university contacted directly by ChargeBox, or was the project begun internally based on a poorly targeted desire to make the campus better for students? Whatever the answers, this titanic waste of university funding indicates a fundamental lack of accountability, oversight and basic common sense among those allocating money at QMUL.

The financial figures in this article were obtained from a FOI request to QMUL.