Purge of administrators leaves UK universities exposed

Loss of vital expertise piles more pressure and workloads on those left behind, including academics

October 4, 2021
 Swimmers braved the icy cold waters of the Thames Estuary to illustrate administrative purge leaves UK universities exposed
Source: Alamy

Disproportionate targeting of professional services staff for pandemic-era redundancies could leave UK universities without important expertise and pile more work on academics, it has been warned.

Ruth Levin, senior national education officer at the Unison union, said she was concerned that support staff provision at some institutions was being “cut right back to the bone”.

“There are wider concerns around the sector feeling that [senior managers] need to, or should, make cuts now, and that that’s potentially going to disproportionately fall on support staff,” she said.

Ms Levin said that cuts to administrative roles would harm diversity in higher education, because women and minorities are over-represented in these posts.

Among the institutions making cuts is Goldsmiths, University of London, where 32 professional services staff are at risk, alongside 20 academics.

Tara Povey, co-president of the local University and College Union branch, said that “a lot of the people who could be losing their jobs are absolutely crucial to the university”.

Goldsmiths is also planning to centralise some support services but Dr Povey, a lecturer in post-colonial and global history, said that administrators based in departments had vital “local knowledge”.

Other institutions that have cut support roles during the pandemic include Imperial College London and the University of Brighton, which both targeted IT-focused positions.

“A large number of universities have run voluntary redundancy schemes [for support staff roles] in the past few years, and it has led to those left behind being hugely overworked,” Ms Levin said.

“So now, when we see further cuts, the concern is that the right support isn’t there, particularly for students coming into higher education after a hugely disrupted time.”

Mark Farwell, chair of Solent University’s UCU branch, said that 60 professional services jobs had gone at his institution, alongside 49 academic roles, and that it was clear that the people who had lost their jobs “certainly had a very important role and job in the university in terms of administration”.

“Workloads for professional services staff have gone absolutely through the ceiling,” said Dr Farwell, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Sport, Health and Social Sciences.

One researcher at a post-92 university told Times Higher Education that the loss of support staff had left academics with a heavier administrative burden.

“This is very inefficient, not just because we have plenty to do already but because we lack the knowledge and experience. There are complex operations within universities,” they said.

One tweet by Alex Stevens, professor in criminal justice at the University of Kent, last month garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets. It said: “Memo to universities: cutting administrative staff and giving their tasks to more highly paid academics is not a cost saving.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Parallel universe! Most of the time I am bemoaning the increasing number of administrators (and their control of the university) with my colleagues. Clearly, my university is not typical!
Similar to mine in one way, some admin staff rule, especially those in (in)human resources, all part of the growth of the 'professional management class'. Though those who directly support academics were heavily culled by previous VC's they have been targeted again leading to yet more overloading of those that remain, and academics. Other support staff in Estates, both craftsmen and lower management, have been given 'the package' so we're expecting the University to bring in expensive FM contract companies to save direct employment pension costs next.
As there is no "Like" button, I am putting in a "Like" comment!

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