Union members fear Wolverhampton University staff cuts will hit students badly

Union members at the University of Wolverhampton are concerned that there won't be enough staff to teach students in several subjects next year as staff feel "pressure" to accept resignation offers.

The University of Wolverhampton
The University of Wolverhampton

The university announced in May that it was halting student recruitment to 138 courses due to a £20 million deficit and a 10 per cent fall in UCAS applications.

Up to 500 jobs could be lost, with the university launching a mutually agreed resignation scheme, MARS, which has been "heavily recommended" to staff who might otherwise face redundancies.

However, staff have only been given three working days to consider whether to accept their resignation offers, and there are concerns that the number of resignations accepted means there won't be sufficient staff to teach students currently on the affected courses.

The university - which also has campuses in Walsall, Telford and Burton - assured students on the 138 courses that they would be 'taught out' to the end of their degrees, but current staff members doubt whether this can effectively be done.

Dr Catherine Lamond, chair of the UCU union's negotiating committee at the university, said: "There's been a big change with MARS. We were assured that there would be time to consider the offer and that we could change our minds, but they've moved the goalposts.

"Some people have applied with that get-out clause in mind, but now people have only been given three working days and they would have to leave their posts earlier.

"It really puts pressure on people to make that decision. They're really rushing it through. It's horrible for members of staff, they feel like they're abandoning their students."

Dr Lamond added: "Everyone who applied in the School of Performing Arts has had their resignation application accepted, meaning there's practically no one left to teach students. It's particularly devastating for them.

"It really looks like lots of students will be left with no one to teach them. They're getting rid of whole subject areas, what happens to the students?

"The university hasn't said they won't be able to teach them out but there's no guarantee."

Dr Lamond said: "It really feels like the impact on students hasn't been considered. The focus has been on saving money.

"There doesn't seem to be a plan - you assume they would have planned for how many staff we will need.

"The situation is even worse than we thought."

An anonymous staff member at the university added: "The MARS scheme has been heavily recommended to staff by the interim vice chancellor and the interim head of HR.

"A strong push to apply for and accept MARS has been made to those of us in the School of Performing Arts, where recruitment has been suspended on all first year undergraduate and Masters’ degree programmes, as an alternative to compulsory redundancies.

"The MARS offer is essentially 20 weeks gross salary and the university has made it clear that compulsory redundancies will follow if not enough people apply for MARS.

"Compulsory redundancy will only offer statutory pay so it will be significantly less than MARS for some colleagues.

"The MARS offer is not open to new staff still in their probationary year and is deeply unfair, as these colleagues will also not be entitled to statutory redundancy pay if they have worked less than two years at the university.

"Colleagues are genuinely distressed and desperately trying to calculate their odds of being made redundant.

"As we have been told - 50 per cent less teaching (no first year or Masters students) means 50 per cent less staff needed for academic year 2022/23.

"Of course in academic year 2023/24 there will only be one year group remaining so it is likely that further redundancies will ensue then."

The staff member added: "The acting dean of the Faculty of Arts, Business and Social Sciences has publicly stated that there are no plans in place for future recruitment so the future is undoubtedly bleak.

"Most eligible staff in the School of Performing Arts have applied for MARS and all have been accepted.

"This means that the university accepts there is no need for the job roles of these people, which also suggests that they will be forced into redundancy if they don’t accept MARS.

"If we all take the MARS offer there will be very few, newly appointed staff, remaining to teach our our existing students.

"The impact on student experience will be catastrophic, especially if management try to backfill 'unnecessary' roles with hourly paid lecturing staff.

"The Students’ Union has been utterly silent on the entire issue and remains a largely uninterested spectator. My students are distraught and are desperate to support staff in this issue.

"MARS is something of a lifeline to colleagues who worry about paying their bills in the coming months but the tone of communications from the vice chancellor suggest that something worse is coming in the form of statutory redundancy pay and I worry that colleagues will accept MARS, leaving our students unsupported through the final years of their studies."

A spokesman for the University of Wolverhampton responded: “Our Mutually Agreed Resignation Scheme is a key initiative within our wider recovery and transformation plan, which will put the university on a stronger financial footing for the future and ensure we can invest in the courses and experience we offer our students, whilst also strengthening our partnerships in the community and around the world.

"We appreciate that, for those colleagues impacted, this will be a difficult time, and we will provide whatever support we can to minimise any disruption or distress.”

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