The University of Nottingham’s (UoN) finances will suffer due to the COVID-19 crisis, and they have chosen the lowest paid to take the hit. Behind the nice words and technical jargon of press releases lies a story of pay-cuts, lay-offs, and outsourcing. Students are expected to continue to pay exorbitant fees while teaching quality goes down the drain.
The past few years have been remarkably good for UoN. They have had consistent budget surpluses of around £30m and have undertaken new projects such as the Teaching and Learning Building, which cost almost £15m. Despite these healthy finances, the university could not bring itself to pay its staff fairly. Both academic and other staff were chronically overworked and underpaid, which forced The University and College Union to take strike action in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Most recently regarding casualisation, pay inequality, rising workloads and pay devaluation and that was when, financially speaking, times were good.
Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university is expected to suffer a loss to revenue between £150-200m. The university’s executives, feeling good about themselves after taking a pay cut of 10%, have chosen the lowest paid and most vulnerable staff to take the hit. Each faculty has been asked to reduce their budget by 15%. The faculty of arts has reduced the teaching affiliate (TA) budget to zero. This effectively means ‘a mass lay off-of the lowest paid, most precariously employed layer of teaching workers within the Faculty’, according to Notts University Workers. This will result in students seeing fewer seminars for their modules, and permanent members of staff will have to pick up the slack from TA’s absences. Senior staff will most likely be asked to focus exclusively on teaching, as their research budgets are being cut and research leave is to be cancelled. Additionally, staff are being offered voluntary redundancy, and research is going to be increasingly externally funded, which means its direction will be dictated by corporations willing to pay. All this bodes terribly for the quality of both research and teaching next year.
This crisis has been a massive challenge in terms of digitalisation. Universities have had to scramble to make all their teaching and resources accessible online, and online teaching is mentioned as one of the future cost-cutting measures. The IT staff have been invaluable in all of this and have been personally thanked by Vice-Chancellor Shearer West. This does not mean that plans to outsource 125 of those essential IT workers will be halted. Going against the advice of both unions and independent consultants, UoN management is planning to outsource the IT department. It is expected to cost more money than it saves, while seriously compromising the service’s quality and affecting many people’s job security.
All these measures are going to seriously affect all staff at the university. Students will also suffer, as there are likely to be fewer module choices, and the modules that remain will have less content and fewer contact hours. Staff will be even more overworked than they already are and have less time for students. Academics will not have the time or resources to continue to conduct quality research, decreasing the university’s standing in the world, and affecting students’ employment or further study prospects. UoN will expect the same £9000 for less teaching and facetime. Postgraduate students who rely on their degrees to gain teaching experience will find themselves entering the job market deprived of that.
University of Nottingham management are being extremely short sighted. When times were good, they did not make provisions for future hardship or even pay their staff decently. Now, with this heartless response that compromises its capacity to research and teaching to such an extent, can we still call UoN a university?