Hundreds of university staff have been made redundant by their employers as high education facilities try to cut down on costs due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Staff on fixed-term contracts at Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex universities, including researchers, student support workers and visiting lecturers have either been made redundant or told their employment may end prematurely or not be renewed.
The pandemic has resulted in a financial black hole for universities of millions of pounds in lost tuition fees as international students from China and other severely affected countries have or cancelled or postponed their enrolment.
Staff at university are particularly vulnerable to job losses during the pandemic, as universities heavily rely on staff on short-term contracts, with more than 50% in insecure employment according to the University and College Union.
Bristol University urged to reverse decision on ending temporary staff contracts https://t.co/gP1wKveo0Z
— Bristol UCU (@Bristol_UCU) April 8, 2020
The UCU is writing to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, asking that all staff, including those on short-term contracts, be protected by the government’s ‘furlough’ scheme, under which it will pay 80% of wages.
A plan by the director of finance at Sussex University was sent to heads of department, detailing that employment of all tutors on fixed-term contracts and agency staff would be terminated and all recruitment would be suspended including for job offers that had not yet been formally accepted.
The email, which had been sent by the vice-chancellor, Adam Tickell, added that although the cost savings had been calculated before the pandemic, their implementation was being accelerated, warning that they must be strictly followed.
Newcastle University also sent out redundancy notices to academics of fixed-term contracts, prompting one student there to write to the vice-chancellor, Chris Day:
The last thing we as students want to hear is that a number of academics on fixed-term contracts have been made redundant during this lockdown – there is an absolute lack of compassion here. By ending contacts the university is leaving them out in the cold
Bristol University has dismissed 84 staff due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with their contracts being terminated on 9 April.
One of the affected staff, a support worker, detailing with students concerned about their studies and the impact the Coronavirus could have, described his dismissal as ‘stressful and insensitive’.
A spokesman for Bristol University said that the institution had decided to temporary and casual worker contracts early where the work could not be done from home or where the work was deemed ‘not essential’ to teaching or research. He added that ‘These staff were given two weeks’ notice instead of the usual one week’.
Meanwhile, a Newcastle University spokeswoman said that no one had been made redundant as a result of Covid-19. Anyone’s fixed-term contract that ‘will be coming to an end during this difficult time’ will have their circumstances closely assessed and be supported.
The news has been met with critisicism however, with University and College general secretary Jo Grady arguing that ‘universities should suspend any dismissals’ during the crisis period, adding that staff ‘dismissed at this time will find it almost impossible to secure alternative employment whilst the crisis continues’. She continued:
Furlough arrangements should apply to all staff – including those on insecure contracts – and the government should extend the one-year visa extension for NHS staff to cover people working in our colleges and universities. The government should underwrite funding at current levels and guarantee no institution will go to the wall.