Roehampton is ‘first UK university to announce crisis job severances’

Voluntary scheme in response to pandemic ‘devastates’ staff

May 7, 2020

Staff at the University of Roehampton are “devastated” by the institution’s voluntary severance scheme, which makes it the first UK university to firmly announce job reductions for permanent staff in response to the pandemic crisis.

Academic staff at the university were told that the plans, understood to aim at cutting 70 jobs, were required to mitigate the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis on the university.

While other UK universities have warned that job cuts are likely, or reduced staff numbers by allowing temporary contracts to expire, Roehampton is thought to be the first to announce a voluntary severance scheme for permanent staff in response to the crisis.

In an email to staff, Roehampton vice-chancellor Jean-Noël Ezingeard said the university had already lost £4 million because of the pandemic and predicted a “reduction in income of £31 million, which is more than 20 per cent of our total income”.

“We are now in a position where decisive urgent measures need to be taken to secure our financial sustainability and therefore the future of the university,” the email said.

One of these measures includes a consultation and negotiation on a time-limited salary reduction for staff. “In order to protect the salaries of those on lower pay, the proposal is that this will apply to staff on Grade 7 and above [with salaries of about £36,500 and up]…this could save in the region of £4.5 million next year,” Professor Ezingeard said.

The proposal is part of a number of measures to ensure that the university returns to operating with a small surplus by the 2022-23 academic year, according to another document sent to staff.

Linda Cronin, chair of the Roehampton branch of the University and College Union, said the union had been informed that the university would seek to cut about 70 academic posts.

“It was a shock [for Roehampton] to be the first institution to announce job cuts, but, unfortunately, we know we won’t be the last,” she added.

Dr Cronin said the branch had been told that if the university did not make savings, there would be “restructuring”. “This is usually taken to mean non-voluntary redundancies, though they haven’t specified,” she continued.

Dr Cronin said that even a voluntary scheme, which includes pay for four months, would not be appealing for staff because nearly all universities have implemented a hiring freeze amid the financial fallout from the pandemic, meaning it would be harder to find alternative employment.

She said the news “has been devastating for people, particularly as they are isolated at home. People have done really well and put an amazing amount of effort in to teaching students online. Redundancies during this period would be incredibly difficult.”

The university has already furloughed 100 members of staff, equivalent to 40 full-time positions, most of them technicians or employees in catering or maintenance roles.

The documents from the university said that although any member of academic staff could apply for the voluntary severance scheme, “the university believes it will be able to specifically support academic staff leaving from the following academic departments: School of Education, Dance, Drama, MCL [media, culture and language] and School of Humanities”.

A Roehampton spokeswoman said: “In light of the unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 pandemic and its financial impact, we need to take decisive measures to secure our future while at the same time maintain our ethos and the student and staff experience that we are proud to provide.

“The measures include: acceleration of work to generate new sources of income, such as new academic programmes; staff recruitment freeze; suspension of the senior and professorial pay review; voluntary severance and a voluntary flexible employment scheme; immediate salary reduction for the vice-chancellor and most senior staff.”

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Reader's comments (2)

About time to also look at slashing some of the excess bureaucracy, managers with little value added need to be chopped and done away with. Quality control types with endless meetings and silly forms to fill in need to go.
What can you expect when 10 employees at Roehampton are making well over 100K, while low-level lecturers are stuck in the 40s. The only way this place could survive is if a 'real' uni came in and took over and got rid of the bloated management structure.