Brighton University staff have vowed to strike in defense of jobs after the institution announced plans to make 100 academic staff and 30 professional services staff redundant. The University claims that it needs to make £17.9m in savings, but staff have raised questions about the University’s financial situation. They note that the University has spent over £50m on building projects in the last two years, which has left them puzzled about the purpose of these constructions if staff numbers are set to be reduced by 130.
The University and College Union (UCU), which represents staff on academic grades, has vowed to fight these redundancies with every means at its disposal. Dr. Mark Abel, UCU Chair and Senior Lecturer, said, “This is a threat to the livelihoods of individual members of staff and a threat to the quality of education at our University. At an Emergency branch meeting this morning, our members voted unanimously to move to an industrial action ballot. Staff should not be made to pay for the failures of management.”
Staff are asking how the University has ended up in such a poor financial state. When Debra Humphris joined the University as Vice Chancellor in 2015, she described the University as “a successful institution with a very exciting future.” The proposed redundancies have left staff wondering what Humphris has done during her eight years at the helm to squander that future and put 130 jobs at risk.
Many examples of poor management can be cited, including the £2.4m stolen from the University through internal fraud and the buying back of a long lease from Virgin Active, which cost the University £17m. Moreover, the most recent financial statements show that the Vice Chancellor has been spending vast amounts of money on expensive building projects, with £24m on the balance sheet in 2021-22 and £28m the year before, most of which has been spent on the ‘Big Build’, a development of high-rise buildings at the Moulsecoomb campus.
This situation is a terrible blow for Brighton, where the University is a major employer and has the potential, if properly managed, to make an enriching contribution to the cultural, social, and economic life of the city and beyond. The huge spend on new buildings is part of a plan apparently intended to allow the University to “grow student numbers,” but the student-staff ratio is already one of the worst in the UK, ranking 97th according to one source. Staff argue that, if anything, staff numbers need to be increased, and cutting staff while planning to increase student numbers is a recipe for disaster.
UCU Chair Mark Abel added: “The Vice Chancellor has consistently mismanaged this institution and is now attempting to make ordinary staff pay for her mistakes. UCU calls on the Vice Chancellor and the Senior Management Team to resign. If they have mismanaged the University to such an extent that these cuts are truly necessary, then they should take responsibility. If the Vice Chancellor insists on staying in post, the Board of Governors will be forced to consider dismissing her. Staff morale was already low before this announcement, with little evidence of faith in the senior leadership. We have already voted to take strike action in two national industrial action ballots this year. We have shown consistently that we will fight to defend jobs and conditions and to protect the quality of education at this University. We will do everything in our power as a union to defend our members and this University from this attack from above.”