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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Union members respond to University of Huddersfield’s redundancies and slam “draconian” management

Almost 200 staff members are expected to be made redundant

Union members at the University of Huddersfield have expressed their outrage at another wave of staff cuts, in which almost 200 members of staff expected to be made redundant.

The University is planning to lay off almost 12 percent of its total workforce to cope with “a financial crisis in the university sector”. Members of the Huddersfield University and College Union (UCU) – a union representing academic staff – have voiced their frustration and concern for teaching quality and staff morale.

In addition to staff redundancies, several courses are facing the axe, with others set to be “suspended”. Those set to be impacted include undergraduate degrees in sociology, geography, and maths, and the MSc in health and social care. An open letter opposing the University’s plans was sent by a number of second year students on geography and environmental and analytical science courses to Vice-Chancellor, Professor Bob Cryan.

UCU Branch Chair, Dr Gary Allen and Branch Secretary, Dr Anna Zueva, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “Redundancies at Huddersfield have become an annual event – this is the fourth summer in a row that they occur.

“The current round is the largest the University has experienced. The Vice-Chancellor announced the need to eliminate 12 percent of the workforce. With minor exceptions, the cuts will affect all areas of the University, both academic and administrative.

“The unions estimate that around 200 people will lose their jobs at the end of the process. No voluntary scheme is offered, so leaving staff will receive statutory compensation only.”

The pair argued that, while the UCU and UNISON acknowledge there are external factors at play, namely the tuition fee for home students remaining static for years and a decline in international recruitment across the UK’s higher education sector, the University is in “a favourable financial position” which would allow it to cut staffing costs at a slower pace.

They continued: “It [the University] does not have any debt, has tens of millions in cash in the bank, and in the region of £90m in short-term investments.

“A more gradual approach would help the University protect its reputation, support staff morale, and retain the best academic and administrative expertise. This will also mean that the Huddersfield students could continue to receive the excellent teaching and support they receive now.”

The union members also believe that staff costs will gradually reduce through “natural attrition” of staff in the shape of resignations, retirement, voluntary severance schemes, options to move to part-time contracts when required, as well as a freeze on recruitment and curriculum management.

Staff pay and treatment are also bones of contention for the UCU members who have accused the University’s management of “living up to their draconian reputation”. They claim that staff “working to contract” – refusing to work beyond their contracted hours without pay – were being threatened with 100 percent pay cuts during a period of industrial action last year.

Adding further fuel to the fire is Vice-Chancellor Cryan’s £18,000 pay rise shown in the University’s accounts for the year ending 31 July, 2023. This took the Vice Chancellor’s compensation package up to £426,000 per year.

A paper published last year by the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank showed that Prof. Cryan is one of the most highly paid Vice-Chancellors in the country.

Also shown in the University’s accounts for 2022/23 is a £100k increase in the costs for the most senior staff members or “key management personnel”.

Drs Allen and Zueva claim that they were told by the University’s HR that these increases were due to the “cost of living”.

On the same page of the accounts, it explains how the Vice-Chancellor’s pay is determined, and states that the University’s Remuneration Policy acknowledges that “the performance of the University is dependent on the quality and commitment of its workforce”.

We put this to the University and asked how it expects staff to be high-quality and committed when frequent rounds of redundancies leave many worried about their job security.

The LDRS also asked the University how it justifies the Vice Chancellor’s wage increase, and how it hopes to inspire confidence in current and prospective students and staff in light of the announcement of mass redundancies and course cuts.

We also asked for a comment on the UCU claims regarding working to contract.

The University did not respond directly to any of these questions. Instead, they provided a general statement on the pressures faced by universities in the current financial climate and the institution’s ‘unwavering commitment to educational excellence’.

A spokesperson for the University of Huddersfield said: “Since 2012, UK undergraduate tuition fees have increased by only 2.8 percent, from £9,000 to £9,250, despite inflation surging by over 50 percent. This has precipitated a financial crisis in the university sector.

“We are now among the 40 percent of universities facing budget deficits in 2023/4, further exacerbated by a 44 percent sector-wide decline in international student enrolments in January 2024 due to changes in government immigration policy. Rising staff costs, particularly in pension contributions, further strain our budget.

“Despite these challenges, our University has demonstrated resilience, maintaining high standards with TEF Gold and Ofsted Outstanding awards, and forging research partnerships with most of the top 100 universities globally.

“We contribute approximately £300m annually to the local economy, underscoring our crucial economic role. We previously initiated restructuring and voluntary schemes to navigate ongoing sector-wide financial pressures but, like many universities, must now implement a transformational change program. This includes reducing our workforce by 12 percent to ensure financial sustainability and prepare for a challenging future where tuition fees and immigration policy are unlikely to change.

“Our commitment to educational excellence remains unwavering as we adapt to these economic realities. Our strategies, while challenging, are essential to continue providing world-class education and research, and to play a significant role in regional employment and economic growth. This strategic pivot is not merely a response to immediate challenges but a proactive effort to secure a dynamic and sustainable future for our University.”

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