UK universities axe thousands of jobs during pandemic

University of Manchester records highest number of job losses during coronavirus crisis, according to Freedom of Information responses

December 8, 2020
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UK universities have made thousands of staff redundant since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

The data, obtained by educational platform Edvoy using Freedom of Information requests and seen by Times Higher Education, show that more than 3,000 staff were made redundant between 1 March and 20 September this year by the 104 universities that responded.

This includes those employed on fixed-term contracts that ended without being renewed. The impact of the pandemic on university finances has led to reports of many institutions opting against renewing the contracts of staff in non-permanent roles.

“The high numbers of job losses are a worrying indicator of the state of higher education in the UK. Casualisation has been a growing problem in UK universities, and these figures show how much this has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Nicole Wootton-Cane, editor at Edvoy.

In July, the University and College Union estimated that thousands of staff on fixed-term contracts could lose their roles as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that UK universities could slash spending on temporary teaching staff by £200 million, and on other temporary staff by £300 million owing to financial pressures caused by the crisis.

According to the Freedom of Information responses, the University of Manchester recorded the highest number of redundancies, 528. A spokesman said these were made through a voluntary redundancy programme opened in May as part of its cost-saving measures driven by “the serious financial implications of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The University of Sheffield recorded 424 redundancies, the majority of which were fixed-term contracts that expired. A spokeswoman said the university was extending fixed-term contracts in areas where work was required. “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a financial impact on all UK universities, and we have sought to make cost savings where possible to mitigate this impact whilst still ensuring that our students continue to receive a world-class education and protecting our students’ and staff’s health and safety,” she said.

The University of Oxford recorded 416 redundancies, mostly fixed-term contracts that expired. A spokesman said this figure was in line with previous years.

The University of Cambridge reported 267 redundancies, while the universities of Leicester, York and Glasgow all topped 100. These four institutions said the majority or all of their numbers were fixed-term contracts coming to an end, not because of the pandemic.

Liz Morrish, a visiting fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics at York St John University, said there was “no way” universities should be making redundancies or not renewing contracts during a pandemic and recession when jobs were incredibly scarce.

The pandemic has “amplified the precariousness of the already precarious, mostly younger, academics, who have no stability whatsoever”. It was a “terrible way to depress your already depressed workforce” and would affect the student experience, she said.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said institutions had “worked hard to minimise the impact of the pandemic crisis”.

“In all sectors of the economy, Covid-19 has unfortunately led to job losses and the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts. HE institutions boast some of the best employment frameworks in the UK, and decisions affecting jobs are never taken lightly. All of Ucea’s members will involve their trade unions as staff representatives and work hard to try to avoid compulsory redundancies,” Mr Jethwa said.

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Reader's comments (6)

Sadly many of these job cuts will be from support staff and not from the academic community, which at many institutions needs a rank and file review. The efficiency of academic and research resources remains woefully overlooked at many institutions and is responsible for many wasteful endeavours and activities that weight heavily on university finances.
The real villains are the outsourced entities such as catering companies and international pathway providers who were very quick to make large numbers of permanent staff redundant.
Quite apart from the end of fixed term contracts (which may have been specific projects allied to funding) it would be good to know whether these are actual 'hard' redundancies (as in the staff had no choice but to go) or voluntary severance packages which for longer service staff are a no-brainer. Eg 63 y/o, 3 years off retirement, package makes up the difference, why wouldn't you? The real scandals are the continuing high salaries paid to Vice Chancellors, the persistence of bullying cultures, and declining academic standards.
"no-brainer. Eg 63 y/o, 3 years off retirement, package makes up the difference, why wouldn't you?" Because in some Universities the offer was less than a years salary, even with long service and the associated pension taken early the shortfall was too much for many, though for some staff having suffered years of bullying and unreasonable workloads it was enough to enable their escape. Now comes the 'out-sourcing' of key support in facilities (estates) and voice actors to deliver courses on-line with the massive cost savings associated, IF you believe the hype.
There are also the vacant roles that have not been filled after staff left. In my institution we are suffering having lost staff when we the workload has increased, but the senior management can report that there have been no redundancies. The pressure on the remaining staff is unsustainable


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