University of Portsmouth's English Literature staff ‘utterly betrayed’ over proposed job cuts

A SPOKESWOMAN for the city’s university English Literature department has said staff feel ‘utterly betrayed’ at the proposal to make eight out of thirteen members of the teaching team redundant at the end of the academic year.

Saturday, 4th July 2020, 11:00 am
Updated Saturday, 4th July 2020, 1:02 pm
English Literature students at the University of Portsmouth taking part in a protest earlier this year against staff cuts on their course. Picture: Habibur Rahman

While a final decision on job cuts is expected following a meeting of the University of Portsmouth Executive Board on July 27, the department ‘fear the worst’ and have described the potential decision as ‘career ending’ for some staff.

The lecturer, who said she was speaking on behalf of the department but asked not to be named, said: ‘It has been a pretty horrific experience and to lose jobs now with all the economic uncertainty created by coronavirus could well be career ending. I have worked in the department for over 10 years and under the current circumstances it will be very difficult to get a job at another university.

‘In recent days the university have put forward the option of voluntary redundancy but I don’t think anyone would consider that on the basis of what has been offered.’

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The university has previously cited a ‘24 per cent reduction in applicants for English Literature’ and a ‘constant decline in applicants since 2015/16’ as the reason for the proposed redundancies. Speaking previously on the issue a university spokesman also highlighted a 20 per cent decline in A-level English and related subject entries from 2017 to 2019 nationally’ and a projected 30 per cent fall in English studies degree course uptake by 2025.

However, a joint statement sent to The News by the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature (SASHPL) United group claimed that while there has been a reduction in applicants there has been an increase in the actual number of students enrolling on English literature courses.

The statement said: ‘The University is basing its case on applications, which it reports are down 24 per cent since 2015/16, whereas the English Literature team points out that first year student numbers are up by 29 per cent since the same point. In other words, the university is telling you about a pool of applicants who may or may not sign up for a degree, whereas the English Literature team is pointing to the numbers of students who have actually turned up for their degree.'

On the issue of A-level uptake and potential future pool of students the SASHPL have also questioned why the university basing projections on English Studies in general and don’t feel this is a fair reflection on English literature uptake.

The statement said: ‘The university’s claims that the pool of English literature students is in decline is based on the figures for English Studies which is not the same thing as English literature.

‘There has been a substantial decline in the numbers of students studying English language A-level, but that is of no relevance today, as we're talking about students on English Literature degrees. The Government’s Official Statistics for provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A-level (published on 11 June) show that, in reality, A-level entries for English literature have actually gone up by two per cent and the English Literature market share has consequently increased by 3.9 per cent.’

Even if the projected shortfall of future student uptake was to materialise, the department feel potentially making redundancies now is short-sighted.

The SASHPL spokeswoman said: ‘If you react to every short-term drop in A-level uptake, you just end up making staff redundant in subject after subject and then have to hire new staff at short notice in those very subject areas when things improve again.’

The group said they were compelled to write to The News after feeling it ‘was time they had their say’.

The News put the points raised by SASHPL to the University.

A spokesman responded: ‘The university has undertaken an extensive consultation with the accredited trade union representing the affected staff in English literature. We welcome feedback from staff and students which will inform the drafting of the final business case to be considered by the University Executive Board on July 27.’

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