Cuts, Cuts, Cuts: University Making ‘huge error’, Union Says

UCU fears higher staff workloads, health and wellbeing issues and damage to department communities, as services will be centralised in new management-led cost-cutting plan

(Image: York Vision)

The University of York’s Executive Board plans to cut at least 300 jobs, according to the University and College Union (UCU).

The UCU, along with unions UNISON and UNITE, have been told that at least £30 million needs to be saved and that ‘the majority of this needs to be found from reducing the staff budget.’

A Voluntary Severance Scheme has now been launched, which offers staff a lump sum of six months’ pay if their work can be “delivered differently, reduced or stopped,” and the payment would “deliver sustainable savings for the university.”

The University aims to create a ‘simpler, more integrated PS [professional services] model,’ according to a document outlining a large number of administrative (and also significant academic) changes sent to staff members last month.

The admin cuts will involve wide-scale restructuring to create larger groupings of PS staff who will work at a faculty rather than departmental level. This will mean that specific department administrators will be absorbed into larger teams serving the wider faculty that that department is in.

For instance, those in the Department of Mathematics will be absorbed into a larger administration grouping to serve the Faculty of Sciences (the same faculty that also contains other departments like Biology, Chemistry, Hull York Medical School, and the recently combined School of Physics, Engineering and Technology).

The University claims that this more centralised model will allow for more efficiency through greater flexibility, shared resourcing and further standardisation of administration processes (an example of this which has been implemented this year is the student Check-In system).

These changes will mean that administration staff will work flexibly across multiple departments, removing what the University calls ‘duplication’ and a ‘bespoke’ approach to activities.

The University Executive Board (UEB) stressed that these changes will not lead to the ‘top-down’ running of departments, assuring that they will draw on ‘local’ expertise.

However, York’s UCU has attacked the proposed changes to administration activities. Katie Smith, Joint-President of the Executive Committee tells Vision they are “disastrous.” 

“As it stands, the majority of staff who leave through voluntary severance will do so on the 31st of October. That is mid-semester one, in the middle of teaching, and at a time that will inevitably cause disruption to staff and students and affect the University’s ability to deliver contracted teaching to students.”

Smith has also said that the impact of these changes on remaining staff will also create more stress, adding that the UEB “have not considered staff wellbeing.”

She also adds that this will have a long term impact on departments and their communities.  

“Losing so many staff at once will inevitably result in higher workloads and considerable risk to the health and wellbeing of the staff who remain. It will inevitably result in a diminished teaching and learning environment for students, and it will damage our community.”

“The decision process around this policy has been a mess, and as a result there are lots of myths which are causing distress amongst both staff and students.”

UCU are calling for greater consultation with staff and students in this process of changing the organisation of departments and thinning-out of staff.

“Staff and students know what their workloads are like and what they can/cannot will/will not want to lose out on, so UEB not taking those perspectives into account is a huge error on their part.”

These department restructuring efforts come during a financial crisis for the higher education sector. Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffery commented in The Yorkshire Post in April that “it is only because of the international student fee income that we can afford to teach home students.” As well as calling for a new government department for the sector, Jeffery directly criticised Union strikes.

Vision has reached out to a University spokesperson to comment on the proposed changes and the UCU’s reaction. They said:

 “To protect our position as one of the UK’s top performing universities we need to work differently, focusing time and effort on the highest level research outcomes and the work that brings the most benefit for students.

 “We appreciate this may be an unsettling time for some colleagues and we are doing all we can to protect jobs while ensuring our resilience against continuing volatility.”

Correction: this article has been amended to reflect the fact that voluntary severance is available for all members of staff, not just PS staff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.