University of Leicester cancels events as union pressure mounts

Conferences, lectures, seminars and other events cancelled, postponed or moved elsewhere due to ‘international boycott’ called by UCU in row over 26 redundancies

The University of Leicester has been forced to cancel, postpone or give up hosting 19 events, as union opposition to job cuts continues.

The University College Union (UCU) says the events, which include international conferences, lectures, seminars and one-off research events, have fallen victim to an ‘international boycott’ called by the union on 4 May.

The union has also said prospective students across the UK should not apply to study at the university.

The announcements come after 72 senior Leicester staff and professors wrote to University of Leicester’s executive board to outline their concerns. They met with vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah on 20 May but were unable to stop his plans for 26 compulsory redundancies.

Sadly, myself and colleagues in the University of Leicester UCU branch can no longer recommend the university as a place to study, let alone work – David Harvie, Leicester UCU

In a vote conducted by Leicester Students’ Union, 1,010 students who voted said they had no confidence in the vice-chancellor and executive board of the university; 82 voted against the motion.

The University of Leicester events affected by the boycott:

International conferences that have not gone ahead:

  • The Prehistoric Society’s Europa Conference
  • Future of Local History Conference
  • The Theoretical Archaeology Group’s 42nd Conference


International conferences moved to other hosts:

  • British American Nineteenth Century Historians Conference
  • Drinking Studies Network 10th Anniversary Conference


Annual lectures cancelled/postponed:

  • Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies Annual Lecture: ‘Translation Studies in and for Society: A conversation between Prof Christina Schäffner (Aston University) & Prof Federico Federici (UCL)’, 18 May 2021
  • Bennett Lecture, Annual Geology Lecture, Prof. Lindy Elkins-Tanton (Arizona State University), ‘The NASA Psyche mission: Journey to a Metallic World’, 13 May 2021.
  • Geography Annual Lecture, Prof. Nigel Clark, ‘Touch and Go: Climate Futures and the Deep History of Childcare’


Recurring research seminars indefinitely suspended or cancelled:

  • School of Archaeology and Ancient History Research Seminar Series (School of Archaeology and Ancient History)
  • New History Lab Seminar Series (School of History, Politics and International Relations)
  • Victorian Studies Centre Seminar Series (School of Arts)
  • Institutions of Empire Seminar Series (School of History, Politics and International Relations)
  • Modern Languages Research Seminar Series (School of Arts)
  • Accountability Café series (Business School)


Recurring research seminars moved to be hosted elsewhere:

  • Global Middle Ages Research Seminar Series (Medieval Research Centre)


One-off research events indefinitely postponed or cancelled:

  • ‘Creating and Working with Oral Historical Sources’, 18 May 2021 (School of History, Politics and International Relations)
  • ‘Building Bridges between University Programmes and Translation Profession’, 20 May 2021 (The Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies)
  • ‘Labour Organisation in Middle Eastern and North African countries since the Arab Spring’, 5 May 2021 (Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, Business School)


One-off research events postponed and moved elsewhere:

  • ‘Decoding Dickens: Contexts, Inspirations, Approaches’, 21 May 2021 (School of Arts)


University of Leicester associate professor of finance and political economy, and Leicester UCU communications officer, David Harvie said: ‘It is no surprise that students overwhelmingly voted no confidence in the vice-chancellor – he has already forced dozens of leading academics out of the door in a brutal cost cutting exercise and is determined to go further.

“A few years ago our management studies programme was amongst the most exciting in the country – internationally recognised and top-ranked. Now the vice-chancellor is cutting half the staff who created and teach it. It’s a similar story in other departments. So many good staff have been bullied out.

“Sadly, myself and colleagues in the University of Leicester UCU branch can no longer recommend the university as a place to study, let alone work.”

UCU says the university has handed dismissal notices to nine researchers on permanent contracts within the business school, while advertising for a teaching fellow for the school at a grade two to four levels lower than the staff being sacked, and on a five-month fixed-term contract.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “For the university to advertise a short term five-month teaching contract in the same school it is sacking nine renowned researchers makes a mockery of the claim that its teaching is research inspired. The vice-chancellor is killing staff morale and chasing world leading researchers out the door. He is completely detached from reality.

“Unless Professor Canagarajah immediately withdraws the threat to jobs and comes to the negotiating table, the university senate and council need to assert their control so we can resolve the dispute in the interest of current and prospective students, as well as staff.”

As part of these changes, we are investing in key areas and adding more teaching staff to support the student experience – Nishan Canagarajah, University of Leicester

Nishan Canagarajah said today:

“All prospective and current students should be reassured that the changes being made form part of the University’s strategic plan which aims to strengthen the University now and in the future.

“Taking these steps will ensure we can continue to provide inspiring education and research in partnership with our communities. As part of these changes, we are investing in key areas and adding more teaching staff to support the student experience.

“This has been a challenging year for our students and staff, which is why we are doing all we can to make sure that the impact of our change process is minimised.

“We met with the UCU last week with the aim of reaching a resolution to the current dispute. However, as the university cannot agree to withdraw all compulsory redundancies from the University’s plans, an agreement was not reached. Every job loss is regrettable. The changes proposed will result in 26 posts being made compulsory redundant – this is out of 3500 staff across the University.

“Our focus remains supporting our current students returning to campus, ensuring they can complete their assessments for this academic year and that our finalists can graduate and achieve the results they deserve alongside welcoming prospective students to the campus.”

‘Global boycott’

The UCU’s call for a ‘global boycott’ at the start of May was the latest chapter in its long-running dispute with university management over proposed redundancies and alleged financial mismanagement.

UCU wants academics and institutions across the globe to sever relationships with the university by refusing invitations, partnerships, collaborations and jobs. In addition, UCU wants academics to ignore jobs advertised at Leicester, turn down invites to speak at or organise conferences or lectures at the university, and refuse positions as visiting professors, external examiners or researchers. It also asks that academics stop writing for journals edited at or produced by Leicester, and refuse to collaborate on new research projects with the university.


University of Liverpool strikes

Today’s announcement from UCU comes as around 1,300 staff at the University of Liverpool began three weeks of strike action in protest against 32 job cuts in the faculty of health and life sciences.

The strikes will take place during the following periods: 

  • Monday 24 May – Friday 28 May 
  • Tuesday 1 June – Friday 4 June 
  • Monday 7 June – Friday 11 June 


The strikes coincide with the university’s end-of-year examination period and follow a ballot in April in which 84% of members voted for strike action.

You might also like: UCU calls for ‘global boycott’ of Leicester University

University of Liverpool to face three weeks of strike action

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