We need to save the University of Brighton – our education is at stake

Students and staff from the University of Brighton protest over redundancies
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The University of Brighton has announced that it intends to make 110 academics and 30 professional staff redundant, all in a bid to save almost £18m. As a PhD researcher at the university, I’m horrified – as are other staff, and students. However, we’re fighting back against the redundancies – and we need your support. 

University of Brighton: years of brutal cuts

The University of Brighton announced the redundancies on 4 May. It said that it was asking staff to take voluntary redundancy first, before forcing people to leave. The university’s senior management team attempted to justify the decision. It argued that the freeze in regulated tuition fees has reduced the real-terms value of their primary source of income by around a third.

Senior management also said that the situation has been compounded by current inflation levels reaching near-record highs. They claimed this has pushed up the costs of maintaining all areas of the institution.

However, this announcement came at a time when the £50m ‘Big Build’ project was nearing completion at Moulsecoomb. It also came as the university spent £17m to buy out the Virgin Active lease of the sports facilities at Falmer campus.                                                  

This round of redundancies is another blow to an academic institution that has faced years of brutal cuts. After the closure of the Hastings campus (and of the Eastbourne campus, due to be complete by 2024), along with years of wage stagnation, staff have reached breaking point.

A lecturer who wishes to remain anonymous told me: 

Redundancies and cuts diminish expertise, limit course options, hinder research, and increase workload for remaining faculty, jeopardising the quality of education and the development of well-rounded students. I have witnessed first-hand the profound negative impact of this on my colleagues’ (and my own) mental health and well-being.

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These actions, driven by budget constraints and neoliberal restructuring efforts, have also far-reaching consequences for our curriculum, hampering both students’ ability to pursue their academic interests and the lecturers’ opportunity to undertake serious and meaningful research.

The University of Brighton is already 97th in the league table for student to staff ratios. This is only set to get worse, as management have also proposed to increase the intake of students in the next academic year. 

The impact on university students

It should come as no surprise that after the redundancies announcement, students across all courses were worried. The university sent an email to students to try and calm these nerves, stating that ‘the impact on students will be minimised’.

However, many were not convinced. Joshua Boyle is currently doing their MA in Curating Collections and Heritage, and is the president of the Socialist Students. They told me: 

The redundancies are at best a short-sighted mistake and at the worst will be the death knell of the university. The reason why I chose Brighton to study both my undergraduate and my masters is because of the unique courses and modules as well as the small class sizes. By taking away lecturers and slimming down course content, the university will be taking away one of its greatest facets. 

In addition, this will have a knock on effect not just for the university, but for its research; I recently staffed a conference attended by over 120 people from all over the world, as far as Croatia and Hong Kong.

It will also have a knock on effect on the community. By reducing the school of education, the number and quality of PGCEs [post-graduate certificates in education] awarded will be reduced, in a time where the government has consistently missed the march for teacher recruitment.

A placard with a cartoon of Sponebob Squarepants that reads "the impact on students is minimised"

Many PhD researchers like me are at risk of losing their entire supervisory team, as well as readers for their annual progression reviews. These redundancies could potentially derail their research output.

Moreover, we are witnessing first hand staff being treated as shock absorbers for senior leadership’s mismanagement. This leaves us questioning what the future of academia holds for us if we remain, post-doctorate. 

A student’s union that does not represent its students

In light of the concerns that students have raised, the response from the Brighton Students Union has been disappointing. Rather than outright opposing the redundancies, its stance has been to simply state that they will ensure that ‘student impact and experience is minimised’. It also said that the staff who are at risk should be ‘treated with respect and compassion’.

This response was met with backlash online. On 12 May, the union held a virtual meeting for students to discuss their concerns regarding losing so many brilliant members of staff. Alice, who attended the meeting, told me: 

The response from the Student Union was disappointing to say the least. The post-graduate researchers left the meeting with the sense that our union representatives met us with the pure intention of simmering down student anger to avoid conflict between us and the university. We were told several times that the union reps had seen ‘the figures’ and that these redundancies were inevitable.

In my opinion, they have completely lost sight of what a union is actually for, which is not to protect the financial decisions of the university, but to protect and represent the students. Most of us have just decided to ignore the union altogether at this point, and are working alongside UCU [University and College Union] and Brighton Solidarity under the banner of PGR [Post-Graduate Researcher] Solidarity. 

Students and staff protesting at the University of Brighton

‘They say cut back, we say fight back!’

The situation at the University of Brighton is, of course, not unique to us. Across the country, staff have seen around a 25% real-terms pay cut since 2009. Around 32% of higher education providers were running a deficit in 2019/20. Students are struggling to make ends meet, what with the cost of living crisis and sky-high tuition fees.

In Brighton, it’s nearly two weeks since the announcement of the redundancies. However, students and staff have been working non-stop. Socialist Students, Brighton UCU and PGR Solidarity (to name a few) have been working tirelessly to protect the jobs of the lecturers who make the university the incredible place that it is.

There’s been social media campaigns, flyering, a petition (which you can sign here), and protesting. We’ve received messages of solidarity from UCU branches across the UK, Unison‘s NEC, and Jeremy Corbyn – who also sent us a message of solidarity via the Peace and Justice Project

We know that university management will not give in easily. However, we are ready, and willing, to do what it takes to ensure that no redundancies take place. The future of education at the University of Brighton is at stake. So please, show your support in any way you can. 

Featured image via Brighton UCU

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