Vote of no confidence in Surrey leadership over job cuts

Surrey was one of only a handful of UK institutions that was found to have a negative flow of cash in its 2021-22 financial statements

May 24, 2024
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Source: iStock/Evgenia Tsvirko

Union members at the University of Surrey have submitted a vote of no confidence in the institution’s senior management over the threat of job cuts.

In yet another trade union dispute in the UK sector, staff are concerned that Surrey’s restructuring plans will lead to further job losses and course closures.

Surrey vice-chancellor Max Lu’s plans, which are said to involve the cutting of more than 140 jobs, are an attempt to close the university’s £10 million deficit.

In an online poll organised by the University and College Union (UCU) and other campus unions, 97 per cent of voters said they have no confidence in Professor Lu, provost Tim Dunne or the executive board.

The academic unions have been engaged in a long-running battle with Professor Lu, previously delivering a similar vote in 2019 with concerns raised then over “swingeing cuts”.

The unions fear the new proposals will lead to further cuts to jobs and courses, which may in the future lead to the closure of some degree programmes. 

It is the latest attempt by UK staff to prevent redundancies amid widespread financial woes.

Surrey was one of a handful of institutions highlighted by a Times Higher Education analysis showing that it had a negative flow of cash (down £8.6 million) in 2021-22. Professor Lu said at the time it had been a “challenging year financially” given the pressures and constraints of rising inflation.

The UCU said more than 140 staff have accepted voluntary severance at Surrey, but that feedback showed that many of them felt pressured into accepting it.

As a result of the cuts, Michael Moran, UCU regional official, said it is “little surprise that staff confidence is at an all-time low”.

“We believe there is no business or educational case for further cuts and ask that the vice-chancellor and provost rule out any future plans for redundancies and that management listen to staff concerns and commit to building a better university rather than sacking staff,” he added.

“We fear these cuts are the thin end of the wedge and, unless urgent action is taken now, Surrey staff and students will suffer further in the future.”

UCU said it wants management to take note of the strength of feeling and commit to working with staff, students, and other campus unions, rather than “tearing down the bedrock of the institution” by making staff redundant. 

A Surrey spokesperson said the university has adopted a variety of measures to increase income and save on costs, with some staff accepting the opportunity to take voluntary severance.

“The University of Surrey is not immune to the unprecedented financial pressures facing the UK’s higher education sector – including high inflation, high energy costs, the sustained devaluation of tuition fees and the recent decline in international student numbers,” they added.

“We’re taking a focused and nuanced approach to tackling these sector-wide challenges, minimising the impact on our people and our core mission.”

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