‘I have been cowed into silence’: an academic speaks out against redundancy

As Covid-19 causes universities around the world to cut jobs, one UK-based academic criticises the way their employer has ended several lifelong careers

My university has decided to make half of my department redundant.

The formal consultation process was gruelling and meaningless. As it was pushed through in the midst of a global pandemic – when over 50% of staff under threat had school-age children at home and considerable extra childcare and homeschooling responsibilities – our ability to try and respond, to save our livelihoods, was severely diminished.

Now, seven arts/humanities lecturers will soon be told that they no longer have a job – at a time when there are no lectureships available in the HE sector and when being made redundant is therefore pretty much a career-ending move.

Worse still, the affected staff will have to work their notice right up until Christmas, and painstakingly develop new online learning material to assist with the move to digitalisation of the course as a result of the pandemic. Those colleagues will then have to leave their students part-way through the year, in what is going to be very upsetting for all parties involved.

Remaining staff will have to work close to 200% workloads after the redundancies

My university’s lack of consideration to staff and students is symptomatic of the way in which the process has been carried out throughout – from management announcing key dates for the redundancy consultation in the local press before they had been provided to the affected staff, to the ‘business case’ put forward to support these redundancies, which was filled with inaccuracies.

That ‘business case’ will drastically increase class sizes, remove all choice for students of my subject, and place the university’s programmes in that subject the bottom of the UK league tables. But management does not seem to care.

In fact, this ‘business case’ was so poorly put together that staff were forced to create their own, alternative business case, proposing constructive and realistic measures to extend wider participation, to increase student numbers and to make links across other sectors of the university, making a stronger future for the institution. Again, management were seemingly not interested in seriously considering these alternatives.

To add insult to injury, the reason invoked by the university in official communications to the press and in all-staff emails is that these redundancies are, in fact, an act of fairness to all staff and students of the university. The ‘over-resourcing’ of my team, it insists, means that other departments in the university are going without the resources they need. Yet my team has been working at 94% capacity of the university’s own workload calculations – there is no ‘over-resourcing’, and remaining staff will have to work close to 200% workloads after the redundancies.

We should be looking to increase the provision and choices for students, not limit them to a STEM-centric model

These job cuts will have a devastating effect on staff but also on the students, and come at a time when, due to Covid-19, we should be looking to increase the provision and choices for students to enable them to increase their education and skills, not limit them to a STEM-centric model.

I wanted to work in the British higher education system because I valued the intellectual challenge and the academic freedom it promised. My experience has been anything but that.

I am dismayed at the way I have been cowed into silence.

Some details have been changed to protect anonymity

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