University Job Cuts: Will it ever end?

Yesterday, the  University of Manchester announced their plan to axe 171 staff, mostly academic positions in the faculties of arts, languages, biology, medicine and business. This is one of the many job cuts that had taken place in UK universities since 2016. 

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Image: University of Manchester. Image credits: Joshua Poh @ Flickr

According to the University and College Union (UCU), 35 posts in the school of arts, languages and cultures will be cut from a total of 104 whose jobs are at risk. In the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, 65 academic jobs will be cut from a total of 627 people at risk.

The union claimed that the University of Manchester blamed Brexit for the staff cuts.

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, told the Guardian: “We see no economic rationale for jobs cuts on such an enormous scale. The University of Manchester is in a strong financial position and we believe it is using recent government policy changes and Brexit as an excuse to make short-term cuts that will cause long-term damage.”

However, the University of Manchester denies the union’s claims that their job cuts were “due to Brexit”, according to the BBC. 

The university told the BBC: “Brexit and exchange rate fluctuations are features of the external environment in which all British universities and other organisations are operating at this present time.”

In an e-mail statement, the university told WNOL the job losses were necessary for it to be a world-leading institution and they would offer voluntary severance wherever possible.

A university spokesperson said: “The University of Manchester has a bold ambition to be a world leading institution, with a reputation based on academic excellence. In order to meet this ambition, we must improve the quality of our research and student experience in some areas and ensure the financial sustainability of the university. Realising this ambition will require a capacity to invest in our strategic priorities.”

The statement said the cuts are necessary to improve the quality of their research and student experience in some areas, and to ensure their future financial sustainability.

More than 12,000 people work at the university, including almost 7,000 academic and research staff.

This is only one of the many university staff cuts occurring nationwide in the past year.

A spokesperson from UCU’s press office told WNOL in a telephone interview: “Job cuts are a complicated issue, there are a lot of different reasons for it. UCU  believes that universities shouldn’t be making job cuts. Rather, they should be making investments towards their staff to make tertiary education in the UK more competitive. The cornerstone of every university is the staff.”

When asked if Brexit is a factor in university job cuts, she said: ” There is some uncertainty to what Brexit would mean, and it’s too early to jump to any conclusions, but there are concerns that it might have some negative effects.”

“We wouldn’t be predicting any future university job cuts, and we hope that universities recognise that the staff is something to invest in and not something to save costs on.”

Despite that, it seems that job cuts in the tertiary education industry is becoming increasingly common.

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Image: University of Sunderland. Image credits: livesonline.sunderland.ac.uk

Today, lecturers and staff at the University of Sunderland have been warned that compulsory job cuts may be required to deal with falling student numbers.

An e-mail from the chief operating officer, Steve Knight and deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Michael Young that was reported by the Sunderland Echo said that falling student numbers “…will inevitably necessitate some reorganisation and restructuring within the faculties during early 2017/18 to ensure we can successfully deliver against our strategic objectives.”

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Image: Plymouth University. Image credits: www.puic.navitas.com 

Just last month, Plymouth University staff reported fears over job cuts. The university confirmed “informal discussions” were being carried out regarding redundancy plans.

An anonymous staff member told Devon Live that the review is “a major cost cutting exercise” and fears the university is aiming to make budget cuts across the entire institution.

london metropolitan

Image: London Metropolitan Graduate Centre. Image credits: www.libeskind.com

Last year, London Metropolitan University had cut 400 jobs and closed two of their three campuses.

The proposed cuts came right after the 93 job losses announced in early 2016.

Initially established as the University of North London in 1992, it originally attracted 28,000 students. By 2016, the number fell to 12,000. The university planned to reduce this number to another 2,000 by 2017.

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Image: University of Westminster. Image credits: studyabroad.arcadia.edu

Additionally, the University of Westminster plans to make huge job cuts due to a decrease in student enrollment, as reported by WNOL last week.

In April, the university management told the trade unions that there will be large-scale redundancies due to falling numbers of undergraduate enrollment. It is expected that student numbers will drop from 13,000 to 10,000 from now until 2021.

Video: Job cuts at the University of Westminster. Video credits: Amelia Walker-Hall & Olivia Herring from the University of Westminster.

The lack of prospective student applications is a common cause for staff layoffs.

According to a UCAS report illustrating student applications for the March 2017 deadline, English applicants dropped from 428940 in 2016 to 408500 in 2017.

In the whole of UK, there had been an approximate 20000 drop in student applications in just one year, from 519,030 in 2016 to 496,010 in 2017.

Applications from EU students had also dropped from 47870 in 2016 to 45140 in 2017.

The Brexit results may possibly be one of the reasons behind the lack of EU applicants. In February, it was found that the number of EU students applying to UK universities fell by 7% since Brexit.

Written evidence had warned the number of prospective EU students choosing to study in the UK might fall as a result of Brexit – this could cost the UK economy more than £690m per year.

Previously, leading academics have warned MPs that Brexit could be the “biggest disaster” in tertiary education, and that leaving the European Union could damage the reputation of British universities.

Higher tuition fees and the rising cost of living may also deter prospective students. In relation to that, Jeremy Corbyn had announced his plan to abolish tuition fees as part of the Labour Party manifesto.

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