Imperial Covid-19 researchers criticise plans to cut 75 ICT jobs

Members of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team warn against redundancies in ‘vital’ jobs

June 9, 2020
Source: iStock

Imperial College London has told staff it expects to make 75 staff in the ICT department redundant, with coronavirus researchers warning the move could harm their work.

In a “white paper for staff consultation”, the university set out how changes to “the ways of working, management structure, roles and staffing” will save the university around £2.7 million following an eight-month restructure.

The plans will affect 156 members of the 281 staff in the ICT department, as they will be asked to apply or compete for roles “either internally and in some instances against applicants both internally and externally”.

The university said it expects 75 staff will be then made redundant, although “will work to keep this number to a minimum”, following the consultation period.

According to the document, the college can “only operate effectively when relevant underlying ICT technology, people and process capabilities are in place, planned and delivered in collaboration with the wider college, in an optimal manner”. It said that current “inefficient structures and processes result in suboptimal services being delivered to the College”.

There will be an opportunity to be considered for voluntary redundancy until 31 July 2020, after which there will be a compulsory redundancy process.

One academic told Times Higher Education they were “horrified” by the plans: “This has been rushed through to the point of being reckless. It is an important department – especially now – and this will directly affect Covid-19 research.”

Members of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team, which has been advising government on how to respond to the pandemic and working on modelling of the spread of coronavirus, also condemned the plans.

Team member Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in the faculty of medicine, said that for weeks “all of our Covid-19 response work has had to be done remotely. It goes without saying that our work is of significant public health importance, both within the UK and around the world, and it would have been impossible without the Imperial ICT staff and their heroic efforts in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.”

Another member of the team, Seth Flaxman, a senior lecturer in statistical machine learning, said that “my team has published a major paper in Nature quantifying lives saved by lockdown, for which we relied heavily on specialised computing services supported by Imperial's ICT staff.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said it was “incredible” that Imperial would “risk undermining the fight against Covid-19” through the redundancies. “We want to work with Imperial and make the case for government to provide the funding the sector needs, but we will fight to keep every member of staff,” she said.

An Imperial spokeswoman said: “We are reforming our Information Technology Services to provide the best support for our world-class research and education. Our Covid-19 Response Team will continue to receive first-rate ICT support. We are simplifying some processes and adopting a structure that makes it easier for us to respond quickly to the changing needs of our researchers and students.

“This project predates the pandemic, but the urgent need to support remote working, teaching and learning made these changes even more important. We are consulting with and supporting our staff who are affected by these changes.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (7)

Classic Imperial double-speak. As usual, follow the money. Which to find you have to wade through 50 (out of 60) pages of managerial hocus-pocus to find. How sacking 25% of the workforce will somehow make things so much better truly beggars belief.
Nick, no surprise there. I was made redundant from Imperial in 2006, which happened to be good for me, but as I understand that process didn't result in any savings.
Instead, pay the oligopolies huge sums of money and inculcate the dependence on the oligopolies. UKHE is morally deficient in not adopting OpenSource and introducing an alternative.
University IT departments are often run like IT departments in companies. I wish they would instead adopt an open-source philosophy and cater more to what scientists really need. That would be support for LaTeX, R, Linux, Thunderbird, mySQL etc instead of Word, SPSS, Windows, Outlook, PostgreSQL etc. They need real nerds there, not people with lots of Microsoft certificates. Would make scientists' lives so much easier. And it would save training and software costs on top of that.
Never going to happen, Uni IT needs always start with control, who can buy, what they can install, and active tracking, not just the GCHQ active interception stuff, tracking of activity on and of Uni owned machines, tracking of content moving over Uni networks on personal devices, and tracking of keystrokes, virtually every contract of employment Uni staff have signed, especially when updated versions are demanded to be signed allows all of this. Trades Union officials in some Uni's have such intrusive tracking and interception being used against them, and their members, they have to use on-line e-mail providers and VPN services just to maintain basic confidentiality, this became very clear for some with parallel e-mails taking several hours to arrive into their Uni account inboxes, due to manual reading interception, yet virtually instantly into on-line accounts and non-intercepted Uni accounts. The CCP virus has however taught us one thing, obstructive IT departments can be bypassed, machines can be wiped and reloaded, the authoritarian IT dept backlash is yet to come...
@ NJF I completely agree.
The way this restructuring is being done is wrong because management are rushing it through in breach of the College’s own official procedures on restructuring. See the open letter from UCU at https://ucu.imperial.ac.uk/. HR immediately placed all members of ICT in separate risk groups, with recruitment to new roles scheduled to start before the consultation was due to be finished. Staff skills and abilities have not even been properly assessed against their new job descriptions with the result that some good quality staff are being lost while others have been placed in high pay roles that they don't have the skills or abilities to carry out.

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