Since the Wessex Scene presented the ‘cuts special’ in March, fears that the cuts proposed at that time would be the first of many to hit the University have been confirmed.
On March 25th, University Council confirmed the phasing out of Sports degrees over the next three years. While the minutes from that meeting have not yet been released, the agenda, which has been released, is enough to raise some significant issues. It unveiled a ‘new strategy’ which committed the University to “increasing our income from research grants and contracts at a rate which exceeds that of our of Russell Group comparators”. This stance was backed up by University treasurer Malcolm Ace in the annual financial review, who stated that the University would focus its resources on “well funded degrees” in order to “maximise earning from grants and contracts.”
So in ending Sports studies degrees in order to focus on areas of research excellence, it appears the University was focussing on areas of profitability. The agenda confirmed that further disciplines would be ‘disinvested’ from if they did not fit into the strategy. This should be enough to worry students in less lucrative degrees such as humanities. Unconfirmed reports suggest undergraduate Social Work degrees may be the next to be cut.
An anonymous source from UCU (University and College Union) raised concerns to the Wessex Scene about the corporate way in which the University was being run. They also commented that the likelihood of staff leaving the Sports department before the three years had passed was high, and that the University’s chances of making ‘high quality replacements’ as promised was extremely limited. Those currently on Sports degrees should therefore be concerned for the preservation of quality on their degrees.
Also announced over the Easter holidays were the loss of 200 administrative staff, most through voluntary severance in a cost cutting plan. Fears have emerged that some administrative duties will pass to lecturers when these staff leave, reducing the amount of time they are able to spend on their primary duties of teaching and research.
In a further development, the University has recently confirmed the removal of halls wardens from halls of residence. Although it again claims this is not a financial decision, it has confirmed that it expects to profit from renting out the rooms currently occupied by wardens. At the last meeting between management and wardens, the possibility of ‘outsourcing’ the support services in halls at a later date was also raised, causing one union official to question whether this may be a hidden motivation for the unpopular plans.
There is no doubt that we are currently in a time of financial uncertainty for higher education. While Labour planned to cut millions from University budgets last December, the new government will soon announce an emergency budget aimed at reducing the national deficit by over £6 billion. This is likely to involve further cuts to higher education. However following a motion passed by Union Council on Monday 17th May, it is now SUSU policy that the University should take a different stance with regard to the way it prioritises degree courses and protect jobs at all costs.