Fighting cuts at Leeds University
By Conor Whelan
The job cuts about to be made unless Senior Management are stopped are the biggest and most frightening issue this university has faced since Thatcher’s cuts, and most staff who were around then think this is worse. Some of the most senior national figures have confirmed our fears. The Guardian’s Education Editor, Polly Curtis, has called what we are facing a “funding crisis”. Sir Alan Langlands, head of the University Funding Council warned The Guardian that “the UK risks losing its international reputation for higher education”. Yet some students say that we should leave the matter to others, and some seem not to care. But we should be furious – the quality of our education is under attack.
Every department has been told to prepare to make a 10-20% cut in spending, having been forced to make 5% cut last year. There is little but staff left to cut. Prof. Michael Arthur, Vice-Chancellor (VC) has announced a £35 million reduction in the university’s budget. This is more than the total of our tuition fees, £30.8 million, so we are effectively putting ourselves in debt for nothing. 60% of the University’s expenditure is spent on wages. 60% of £35 million works out at about 700 people’s salaries, so around 700 jobs will go, nearly 10% of the workforce.
Prof. Vivien Jones has said “providing inspirational learning and teaching and an exceptional experience for our students are at the heart of the University’s strategy”. But at best, job losses will lead to seminar groups growing larger, lectures being delivered outside of staff’s expertise, research becoming slower and narrower, and tutors having less time to feedback on work. At worst, some tutors believe that they will be unable able to run all courses, despite the Pro-Vice-Chancellor’s assurances. Prof. Arthur told the University College Union (UCU), who represent academic staff, that while he is aware that Staff Student Ratios (SSRs) are a measure of the aspiration to be in the top 50, he is prepared to take the ‘short term hit’. Cuts will in fact create a very long term hit. SSRs aren’t just a key factor in the league tables themselves, they impact across the standards of teaching and research. Some tutors within Biological Sciences expect PhD students to be left without supervisions and students without tutors once cuts have been finalised there – the faculty has been told it must put 70 people out of work.
This ‘economies exercise’ (i.e. job cuts) will be enforced by the Change Steering Group, comprising the Vice, Pro-Vice, and Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Finance Director, the Secretary, a dean and the HR Director, and will report only to Council. The University Senate has been omitted. Senior Management’s failure to consult them breached Ordinance II of the University Charter. The failure to consult unions violated Section 188 of the Trade Union Act. The ‘economies exercise’ makes no mention of the Change Steering Group consulting students, even though we pay tuition fees, which we were told would make us stake holders in the university. This makes any claim that students’ views are being taken into account ridiculous.
Senior Management claims to be responding to the recession and its expected affect on government funding. The recession began in January, with warnings in national media then that public sector spending may be reduced, so why the sudden announcement of £35 million cuts in October? Perhaps there some other reason that they are not telling us about. This seems likely when the university made a £11 million profit last year and has £80 million in savings. And why not wait until the next election to see if the winning party will actually make cuts? Clearly the ‘economies exercise’ is based on guesswork, and as we can see from the £20 forecasting error reported by Leeds Student in October, seeing into the future is not something of which Senior Management are capable. Also, implementing the government’s cuts before they have even been made weakens the university’s ability to lobby against them. Meanwhile, £380 million is being spent on buildings, such as a glass pavilion outside the Student Union. Expenses also include meetings such as the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group’s three day meeting in Rudding Park, a 5 star hotel, the VC’s weekly commute by plane from Southampton, and his £237,000 salary before bonuses, £39,311 more than Gordon Brown.
Last week Jak Codd, LUU Communications and Internal Affairs, told Leeds Student “until we know where those cuts are going to be made, we are not going… to lambast the university.” We know this: cuts will be made in every department. But The School of English, The School of Computing, The Faculty of Biological Sciences, The Department of Colour Sciences, The School of Mathematics and The Institute of Transport Studies have each been brought under review, which is where “compulsory redundancies would be focussed” (Deputy VC). Departments such as the School of English have already announced they will no longer have secondary markers. We have already seen that staff loses from Electronic Engineering last year took it from the top of the National Student Survey to the bottom. Codd also said “we are with the students”. But cuts will severely damage teaching excellence and the student experience, as it is our tutors who make our degrees happen. Those remaining will have less time for us and will be more stressed, leaving them less capable to deliver the high standards we came to Leeds expecting. It is time for the Student Union to speak out.
If we don’t oppose these cuts now, we will regret it when we see our courses being wrecked. We should be emailing and lobbying Senior Management, mandating our student representatives to act now rather than wait until it is too late, and be making massive demonstrations. The 896 [now 1,294] who have joined the Facebook group for students, ‘Defend Jobs at Leeds, Defend Education’, have taken a step in the right direction. But there are 31,000 of us, and if we come out in force, we will be heard.