Writing in the June issue of the university staff e-newsletter, Vice Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam outlined his thoughts on the emergency budget and how it may affect the university in the future.
Remembering back to January earlier this year, students and staff alike were outraged at the phased dismissal of the Sports Studies and Sports Science programmes at the university, rumoured to be because of the education nature of the course, rather than research. However, there remains the possibility of further cuts ‘in areas that do not fit with our ambitions’. This comes in light of the new budget that has seen VAT increase from 17.5% to 20%, which alongside other education cuts will see the university pay ‘£2m more per annum’, meaning ‘that we will need to continue to manage our resources very carefully’.
Not only is there the opening for further course closures that will affect students, but there is also the increase in tuition fees – set to be decided upon this summer, with the release of the Browne report: ‘If feasible, increasing home student fees will need careful consideration by the university, and is not an option that will compensate for the more immediate reductions in funding that follow the budget announcement’. This is the most open statement yet that, should the Browne report advocate an increase in tuition fees, Southampton University will look to follow suit.
However, as shown in the latter part of the sentence, tuition fees will not make up for the increase in costs; there will have to be a more immediate second target for cuts – staff jobs. There is currently a Voluntary Severance Scheme in place for any worker willing to lay themselves off, with compensation of a year’s salary, to help cut costs at the university. However, this offer is only available to help ‘significantly reduce the risk of compulsory staff losses’, so job loss is all but certain – its just the method used that is to be determined.
This offer is available to all staff – from lecturers and researchers, to admin staff and managers, so the process has a wide spectrum to try and maximise efficiency across the university. What this may mean though, is that students could feel a drop in their education standard if there are fewer members of staff to deal with their problems, especially if the price of higher education increases, leading to potentially longer queue times in Student Services, or reduced opening hours in the Finance Office for example.
Whilst it is unclear what courses do not fit with the university’s ambitions, or what areas of staffing will be cut (although the Union Porters seem to be the first to be ‘repositioned’ within the Union, with lower pay, no overtime and fewer hours), it seems clear that the economic pressures of the downturn have hit Southampton University in a way that has required drastic action. As the Russell Group responded to the issue, the university has already had a large amount of cuts and does not want to see anymore, but it seems that they are coming – and not only will students be heavily affected, but staff as well.