Brighton University staff to strike over compulsory redundancies

Protest against the closure of University of Brighton's Hastings campus. SUS-160514-140821001
Protest against the closure of University of Brighton's Hastings campus. SUS-160514-140821001

University staff are set to go on strike this week over compulsory redundancies.

University of Brighton staff who are members of the lecturers’ University and Colleges Union (UCU) at campuses in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings will walk out at 1pm on Thursday (November 23) and form picket lines at the entrances of university buildings.

A spokesperson said the picket lines will operate from early in the morning the following day and the university will be ‘effectively closed’ until the following week.

Last year, despite a protracted campaign by the local community and the council and supported by the UCU, the University of Brighton announced the closure of its campus at Hastings.

The last students there are due to graduate in June 2019. Recently, the University had its planning application approved for a new £300 million building development at its Moulsecoomb site in Brighton.

Staff and students fear that this may be a prelude to a future ‘rationalisation’ of the University’s sites, with the closure of the Eastbourne campus high on the agenda – according to the union.

A UCU spokesperson said, “This one-and-a-half days of strike action this week will be followed by a ‘work-to-contract’ from next Monday. Unless there is a settlement, the dispute will then escalate in December with a two-day strike, and will further escalate from January.

“Thousands of students will be affected by the cancellation of lectures and seminars, and the absence of pre and post-essay tutorials. Many of the University’s research seminars will also be affected.”

The action follows a ballot of UCU members which returned majorities in favour of action of more than 85 per cent, said the union.

“The union argues that the University management’s threat to dismiss academic staff is entirely unjustified, and indicates the management’s determination to end the ‘no redundancies’ policy that the University has maintained for the last 25 years,” added the spokesperson.

“Ninety staff left the University in September under a voluntary severance scheme as part of an effort by management to cut the wage bill.

“Some of those who volunteered did so under threat of being made redundant if they did not. So inept has been the handling of this process that it has already resulted in the loss to the University of a research grant of half a million pounds, and the closure of the foreign languages department.”

Dr Mark Abel, chair of the UCU Coordinating Committee, said, “The UCU objects to more staff being forced out of their jobs given the number that have already left. The University is not overstaffed.

“In some cases the work of those who have left is now being done by temporary hourly-paid lecturers. It is a casualisation of the teaching staff with adverse effects both for students’ education, and for the contractual terms of staff.”

The union said academic staff at the University believe that if they don’t resist these sackings, the management will attempt to impose many more job losses as part of a process to casualise the workforce.

Dr Nadia Edmond of the School of Education at Brighton, added, “It seems that the management’s goal is to increase the annual profit of the institution whatever the cost to the quality of the education we offer to our students. That is simply unacceptable.”

A spokesman for the University of Brighton said, “Members of the University Executive Board met with UCU this morning as part of ongoing discussions regarding two members of staff who are regrettably at risk of redundancy.

“It is clear from their actions that UCU has been intent on taking industrial action for some time despite the good progress in discussions which has reduced the numbers of staff at risk of redundancy from 22 to two.

“This unjustified industrial action is counter-productive, will only damage the experience of students, and we regret the direction the UCU has chosen to take. We have acted in good faith throughout and remain open to dialogue at any time.

“The University will be open for business as usual and we will be doing everything possible to minimise the impact on our students.

“We can also confirm that there are no plans to close our Eastbourne campus.”