Sussex’s future: fewer staff, more students

University plans 100 ‘targeted’ job cuts while increasing student numbers. John Morgan reports

The University of Sussex has proposed cutting about 100 staff as it presses ahead with an increase in student numbers.

Sussex, the latest in a series of universities to announce job losses, cites future cuts in government funding and a £1.5 million fall in research income following the 2008 research assessment exercise as factors demanding savings.

The university is consulting on plans to cut 115 jobs, tempered by about 20 “potential redeployment opportunities”, from the end of July 2010.

Michael Farthing, Sussex’s vice-chancellor, states in an email to staff that the university is facing a £3 million deficit this year, “which will grow rapidly in following years”.

The university would “try to avoid compulsory redundancies”, he adds.

As staffing is reduced, the number of students will rise.

“Overall, the university will be growing its student numbers, with no plans to reduce total student numbers across our schools,” Professor Farthing writes. “Indeed, in many areas we are planning significant growth in the number of international and postgraduate students.”

This prompted the Sussex branch of the University and College Union to warn that staff and students would suffer.

Paul Cecil, the UCU branch president at Sussex, said: “There is very significant uncertainty and concern among staff, both those who are aware their areas of activity are being targeted and also more generally.

“While the university is talking about increasing student numbers, we are greatly concerned about the impact it will have on staff who remain and the education of the students who come to Sussex.”

A Sussex spokesman said: “We are making changes in a targeted way – reducing staffing numbers in areas where student demand is low, and increasing numbers where demand is rising.”

The spokesman said Sussex has “very low” student-staff ratios (SSRs) compared with other universities, and added: “We have looked at a benchmark of similar institutions, and are setting SSRs to typical levels for the subject.”

The spokesman explained that the drop in research income after the RAE was a result of “the larger volume submitted elsewhere and the wider spread of funding”, rather than a drop in quality.

“This funding change is part of the reason why we face current financial pressures,” he added. “But the reason for these changes is more about long-term sustainability of excellent research and a vision for research growth than specific short-term funding issues.”

The plans include 24 job losses in the School of Life Sciences. The university had already said it would withdraw the school’s BSc in Human Sciences and the BSc in Environmental Science, with current undergraduates allowed to complete their courses.

It said this was in response to low intakes and did not relate directly to the savings exercise.

Other areas singled out for financial savings, Professor Farthing says, include: engineering and design; English; history, art history and philosophy; informatics; as well as “a number of areas in the professional services”.

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