University and College Union hits out at University of Portsmouth over resumption of plans for job cuts

THE city’s university has come under fire from the country’s largest further education union after confirming the resumption of its plans to reduce staff in its English Literature Department.

Monday, 15th June 2020, 5:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 12:47 pm
English student, Jasmine Lallis, taking part in a protest earlier this year over the proposed job cuts in the University of Portsmouth's English Department. Picture: Habibur Rahman

In February, the University of Portsmouth announced the start of a consultation period over plans to significantly reduce teaching staff in the department from 12 to five full-time positions. It was a move which sparked anger among students who joined lecturers in a protest at Guildhall Square.

The consultation process was suspended with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic but the University and College Union (UCU) have said the university ‘is pressing ahead with the plans because Covid-19 restrictions have eased’.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘The only thing that appears to have changed since March is the University of Portsmouth’s concern for its staff. The university should have cancelled these unwarranted cuts in March and not left the axe hanging over the department.

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‘To try and justify an easing of Covid-19 restrictions to cut jobs in the middle of the pandemic is ridiculous.

‘The university talks up the standard of its teaching, but high quality teaching relies on high quality teachers. The university should work with us to make the case for government funding to defend its academic capacity, instead it’s sending out a very worrying message about how little it values its staff.’

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Speaking previously on the proposed cuts, students had expressed concerns over the potential impact on courses.

Jasmine Lallis, 19, said: ‘I don’t think the educational aspect has been considered.

‘We’ve just taken our module options but we are expecting some of these not to run as the specialists won’t be here.’

The union said the case for redundancies had not been properly made, even before the pandemic, and warned the cuts would leave the department unable to meet demand.

The university have confirmed the resumption of the consultation process and have cited a fall in student numbers and the need for clarity over staffing and planning as the underlying reason.

A university spokesman said: ‘We recognise the strong views that have been voiced in recent months. However, as we prepare for the new academic year, we have a short period of time to provide certainty and clarity to staff and students about course content and delivery methods before term starts.

‘Delaying this implementation will perpetuate imbalances and unfairness in the workload allocations of staff, and prevent the timely redistribution of resources to those areas that need it.

‘Applications to English Literature courses at the University of Portsmouth have unfortunately fallen by 24 per cent in the last four years since 2015/16, showing a consistent decline. This coincides with fewer students studying English and related subjects for A-level, with a 20 per cent decline in entries from 2017 to 2019 nationally.

‘The future pool size for English studies nationally is predicted to fall by another 30 per cent by 2025 as students choose other degree courses to study.’

The university have confirmed the ‘majority of consultation meetings’ have taken place with final responses being submitted by June 20. The final decision will be made by the University Executive Board on July 27.

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