Coronavirus: Manchester staff ‘horrified’ by prospect of job cuts

Email sent to staff said the University of Manchester predicted it could lose £270m in one year due to sharp decrease in tuition fees

April 24, 2020
Source: iStock

Staff at the University of Manchester have said that they were “horrified” to receive an email outlining a potential £270 million loss and potential job and pay cuts.

In the letter, the university’s vice-chancellor Nancy Rothwell said that the university was likely to face a “significant loss of income” because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The email, originally reported in the Mancunion, said: “It is possible that 80 per cent of all international students and 20 per cent of all home/EU students will be lost. For our University this could amount to a loss of over £270m in one year.”

“Thus, we are preparing for a reduction in our total annual income of between 15 and 25 per cent,” she said.

As pay represents more than 50 per cent of the university’s spending, “reducing pay costs must be a key part of meeting a major loss of income”, Professor Rothwell said.

The university leadership is apparently considering deferring pay awards due to promotions, suspending annual increments and national pay awards, offering unpaid (part- or full-time) voluntary leave or retirement and implementing a pay cut for a defined period across the University, the letter said. “Job losses may also be required,” the letter added.

David Swanson, a lecturer in education at the university and president of the University and College Union (UCU) local branch, said the “majority of the staff have been horrified” by the announcement. The idea of pay cuts and job losses ignores the “immense effort staff on the ground have been making to ensure the university is still up and running and students are being taught, all while they live through the trauma of the outbreak”, he said.

In the email, Professor Rothwell also announced that she and the other senior leaders of the management team would be taking a 20 per cent pay cut. She is the latest in a number of university leaders who have agreed to voluntary pay cuts due to the financial difficulties caused by Covid-19, which a recent report from UCU said could amount to losses of £2.7bn across the sector and 30,000 redundancies.

Yesterday, King’s College London announced that president Ed Byrne would be taking a 30 per cent reduction in salary, while Edinburgh’s vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson and the University of Bristol’s vice-chancellor Hugh Brady have both said they will be taking cuts of 20 per cent.

However, Dr Swanson said that considering how high the senior management team’s salaries already are it was “a very small sacrifice”. He said that the message from the letter was that “money is the only thing that matters, when in fact universities are about the people within them” and did not address the problems with how the university was run that made it so vulnerable during the crisis.

Another member of staff who spoke to Times Higher Education agreed. “It was very negative and focused on the financial situation, not how we could handle the crisis and move forward collectively,” they said.

“For our younger colleagues particularly, it has brought disappointment, dismay and anxiety.” they continued. “We recognise this is a difficult situation, but there was an emphasis on tough choices and preparing for pretty harsh measures, rather than recognising the staff on the ground doing the leg work.”

Professor Rothwell said that the letter was “an early and honest view of the current and likely future severe financial impacts of the pandemic on the university”.

She said that she was “immensely proud of the way colleagues have adapted to new ways of working in this unprecedented situation. We will need to sustain some of these changes and introduce still more as we adapt for the future. Things won’t simply return to the way that they were before the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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Reader's comments (1)

This is the ideal time for a savage cut in bureaucratic bloat in UK universities. The first thing is to abolish the useless Quality Assurance Agency as this agency single-handedly creates an awful lot of useless meetings, reports, paperwork and costs in UK Universities hundreds of millions of pounds in employing administration to keep this useless organisation happy. Next we need to cut out tons of the overpaid bureaucrats and senior managers that are overpaid and really not doing anything useful at all. Finally there should be a big move to the cloud so we can cut a lot of administrators out of universities who are doing very basic tasks that can be done a lot better in the cloud. So yes keep frontline course officers, keep the academics and slash the rest and cut out once and for all as much of the useless bureaucracy from UK Universities.