UK universities cutting jobs accused of exploiting pandemic

At least 12 institutions planning to make redundancies

February 1, 2021
Job loss due to COVID-19
Source: iStock

UK universities have been accused of “exploiting” the pandemic, with at least 12 planning redundancies and mounting anger at the lack of academic involvement in decision-making.

Institutions that have confirmed job cuts include the University of Leicester, where 60 roles are expected to go, the University of Liverpool, which plans to cut its headcount by 47, and the University of Dundee, which proposes the loss of 34 jobs. A further eight are set to go in the IT department at the University of Brighton.

Job cuts are also expected at Solent University and the University of Central Lancashire (Uclan), with voluntary redundancy schemes already under way at Senate House, University of London, and the University of Leeds. Newcastle University has announced it will close its London campus, with staff reportedly asked to move to the north-east or take voluntary redundancy.

Ballots in favour of strike action have already been passed at Solent, Brighton and Uclan, while staff at Leicester have passed a motion of no-confidence in vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah.

Liz Morrish, visiting fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics at York St John University, said that forcing through redundancies in the middle of a pandemic would “sour relations” between staff and management.

As many decisions constitute major restructuring, such as closing departments, “but have largely bypassed the usual channels of decision-making, such as senates, it has left staff and students feeling aggrieved”, she said.

At both Leicester and the University of East London (UEL), staff told THE that they felt targeted for speaking out against their institution, as a number of those facing redundancy are prominent union members. One staff member at UEL, where five branch leaders are up for redundancy, said it was clear “our employer is using Covid to target specific union members”.

UEL said the restructuring followed “an equal and consistent process irrespective of role or seniority” and the institution had managed to avoid redundancies in most cases. Leicester said its proposals were “based on long-term strategy and not on individual performance or affiliations”.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said it was “absolutely contemptible for some universities to exploit the pandemic by threatening to make staff redundant”.

“UCU will support any members who are threatened with redundancy and will fight universities trying to push through cuts that would leave staff unemployed and students without teachers and support staff,” she said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Universities accused of ‘exploitative’ job cuts

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Reader's comments (8)

This looks like some weird Schrödinger situation: universities want to stay open and supposedly provide teaching and support to students, and continue carrying out excellent research... but at the same time they cut jobs, including in IT departments. Because online teaching happens without people, right? There's no one preparing the online sessions, making sure IT technolologies are fit-for-purpose and running smoothly for both students and staff... and funded research projects still need to be carried out, but without staff, of course. Support staff? Who needs it... pff... cut cut cut... and if they cannot cut, then restructure and make people reapply for their own jobs, albeit on a different contract with a lower salary. Clever... I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. Instead of addressing management issues and failed investments (or clingying to investments that don't make much sense now, e.g. expanding student accommodation), many universities seem to be opting for the quick fix: get rid of as many members of staff as possible, starting from the the base of the pyramid, i.e. the ones actually doing the teaching, research, support to teaching/research and support to students.
What inuk said above. Did they consider the worst-case scenario of debt repayments in their capital and building expansionism? Total subscription to a mantra of 'student value' and 'student experience' = 'facilities', was always too narrow. (No, I don't exonerate Brown/Browne as the ultimate cause of this folly).
The UK higher education senior management survey: a statactivist response to managerialist governance https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03075079.2020.1712693?journalCode=cshe20
University behaviour has been shameful in all this. Teaching staff are clearly regarded as expendable. All that matters is fee income, accommodation income and student feedback
Why has this come as some surprise to anyone? Companies in the private sector have been using COVID as the excuse for the redundancies they have been planning for years but didn't have the bottle to suffer the negative PR. Now they can do it without the blowback! Universities are just late to the game...
When they get rid of the admin which helps underpin curriculum delivery and research more admin tasks fall on the academics. Many won't get hours for this in their workload, just an expectation or demand that they do it - this then impacts on teaching and learning and research achievements. Cuts to administration and central services will not save higher education by recouping the losses from their poor investments and projects, unnecessary loans and some questionable governance.
Faculty have a purpose in the university? Wow. Who knew?
new
It is of course possible the pandemic has put university finances under extreme pressure. If enrolment has gone down, there simply won't be enough cash to go business as usual. BUT, for senior university managers to suggest that the cuts are in the interest of long term planning and strategy-- right in the middle of a pandemic -- is simply rubbing salt into the wounds of those affected. Where cash is the issue, senior managers should be fully transparent with their calculations and show staff the full details. At that point various steps that would share the pain -- caused by a pandemic, remember -- equally across the community. This could include steps like temporary suspension of promotions, automatic increments and, in an extreme case, four day salaried working week - again temporary. In the present climate, it is important to hold the community together. If instead managers go for targeted settling of scores or boast about their long term vision by inflicting pain on a small part of the community, their callousness cannot be forgiven.

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