Dificultades pandémicas de las universidades británicas: The Guardian
Abril 13, 2020

captura-de-pantalla-2020-04-12-a-las-12-54-24Hundreds of university staff to be made redundant due to coronavirus

Lecturers, researchers and support staff with insecure contracts at three universities will lose their jobs

Hundreds of university staff on precarious contracts have been dismissed by their employers in a drive to cut costs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff on fixed-term contracts, including visiting lecturers, researchers and student support workers, at Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex universities have been made redundant or told their employment will or may end prematurely, or not be renewed.

The job losses come as universities face a black hole of hundreds of millions of pounds in tuition fees from the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, with international students from China and other severely affected countries cancelling or postponing enrolments.

Universities rely heavily on staff on short-term contracts: more than 50% are in insecure employment, according to the University and College Union. The UCU is writing to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, asking for all staff, including those on short-term contracts, to be protected by its “furlough” scheme, under which the government will pay 80% of wages.

The vice-chancellor of Sussex University, Adam Tickell, sent an email to department heads last week warning that “immediate action” was required to safeguard its finances.

The email included a plan by the director of finance, Allan Spencer, to terminate the employment of all tutors on fixed-term contracts and agency staff, and to freeze recruitment indefinitely, including for posts where job offers have been made but not yet formally accepted.

Tickell added that although the cost savings were calculated prior to the pandemic their implementation was being accelerated, with the warning that they must be strictly adhered to.

Newcastle University has also sent out redundancy notices to academics on fixed-term contracts.

The move prompted one student in the geography, politics and sociology to write to the vice-chancellor, Chris Day, about the welfare of the affected staff. He wrote: “The last thing we as students want to hear is that a number of academics on fixed-term contracts have been made redundant during this lockdown – there is an absolute lack of compassion here. By ending contacts the university is leaving them out in the cold.”

Meanwhile Bristol University has dismissed 84 staff on temporary and short-term contracts due to the Covid-19 outbreak. In an email to the affected workers, the temporary staffing service manager said their contracts would end early on 9 April due to the pandemic.

One of the affected staff, who has worked at the university for several years, said his current contract was due to continue for several more weeks. The support worker, who said he was still busy dealing with students concerned about the impact of the coronavirus on their studies, described his dismissal as “stressful and insensitive”.

University and College general secretary Jo Grady said: “Universities should suspend any dismissals for at least the period of the crisis and then review staff needs. Staff dismissed at this time will find it almost impossible to secure alternative employment whilst the crisis continues.”

“Furlough arrangements should apply to all staff – including those on insecure contracts – and the government should extend the one-year visa extension for NHS staff to cover people working in our colleges and universities. The government should underwrite funding at current levels and guarantee no institution will go to the wall.”

Jordan Osserman, a fixed-term postdoctoral researcher at Birkbeck and one of the organisers of the #CoronaContract campaign against the cuts, said: “If they don’t want to poison the well, university management needs to act now and guarantee two years secure employment at or above current pay for all casualised staff — the bare minimum it will take for us to survive the effects of the virus on the job market and the economy.”

A Bristol University spokesman said the institution had decided to end the temporary and casual worker contracts early where they could not work from home, or where the work was “not essential” to teaching or research. He added: “These staff were given two weeks’ notice instead of the usual one week.”


Universities brace for huge losses as foreign students drop out

Call for a government bailout worth billions to help sector survive the crisis

Some universities are already expecting to lose more than £100m as foreign students cancel their studies, with warnings that the impact of coronavirus will be “like a tsunami hitting the sector”.

Several organisations are now planning for a 80-100% reduction in their foreign student numbers this year, with prestigious names said to be among those most affected. The sector is already making a plea to the government for a cash injection amounting to billions of pounds to help it through the crisis, as it is hit by a drop in international student numbers, accommodation deals and conference income.

Universities are already lining up online courses for the start of the next year, but academics are concerned about the impact on first-year students new to university life. Many institutions have recently borrowed heavily to pay for attractive new faculties, often designed to attract overseas students. It comes against a backdrop of declining numbers of university-age students in the UK and the previous uncertainty around Brexit.

Andrew Connors, head of higher education at Lloyds Banking Group, said the crisis has felt “less like a perfect storm and more like a tsunami hitting the sector”. Banks have not had urgent requests from universities, as big financial hits are expected later in the year. However, he said that “while the immediate impact we are seeing in the sector is slower, the overall impact of Covid-19 is potentially deeper and longer”.

In a blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) published today, he writes: “Many institutions are modelling reductions of between 80% and 100% in international student numbers. Every university we have spoken to expects to be impacted and for some the potential loss to income is projected to be greater than £100m. And that is before you factor in that losing new students has a multi-year impact.”

He adds that he expects banks to offer UK universities loans where needed, given their significance in the economy. He warns, however: “I worked through the financial crisis of 2007/08 and it does not compare in my experience to what we are witnessing now – this crisis has touched everybody in some shape or form and many previously viable businesses are now in a fight for survival.”

The Office for Students, the independent regulator of higher education, has already streamlined its rules in the wake of the crisis, calling for universities to sound the alarm if they fear they’ll run short of cash within 30 days.

Universities UK, the industry body, has proposed a series of measures to the government to double research funding and offer emergency loans to troubled institutions, as well as placing a cap on the number of undergraduates many institutions can recruit in 2020-21.

Nick Hillman, Hepi’s director, warned that universities only had limited options to cut their costs. “There are things they can do to mitigate the impact, such as doing all they can to ensure international students keep coming, pausing the development of their estates, doing less research, looking at their staffing and persuading home final-year students to stay on for postgraduate study. But some were in financial difficulties even before the current crisis.

“If international student numbers are down a lot, we have a big problem. The ones with lots of international students could still potentially fill their places with home students (who pay lower fees) but that just leaves a problem lower down the tree.”

Universities face a financial storm – that’s why we need government help

Universities are projected to lose nearly £800m this year, with further losses expected. We cannot face this crisis alone

Few sectors or industries will be untouched by the devastating impact of coronavirus, whether it’s airlines that have grounded their flights or popular restaurant chains closing. Our world-class university sector, which contributes more than £95bn a year to the economy, creates nearly a million full-time equivalent jobs, and delivers £13.1bn in exports, is no exception.

Despite this emerging financial threat, universities are rising to the challenge of helping the NHS and local communities to fight coronavirus. This incudes testing for a vaccine, ventilator development, donating equipment and facilities to the NHS, and releasing almost 5,500 year three student nurses from 35 UK universities opting to join NHS frontline staff.

Universities will also have a central role to play in the recovery of the economy, revitalising communities and helping people rebuild their lives. We can develop skills, knowledge and research, drive regeneration, social mobility and innovation, and provide civic leadership in towns and cities.

But there is a severe economic storm to be weathered, with both short-term cashflow issues and medium-term income challenges threatening universities’ financial sustainability.

In the current financial year (2019-20) UK universities are facing losses in the region of £790m from accommodation, catering and conference income, as well as additional spend to support students learning online as a result of the virus.

Further ahead, there’s the risk of fewer students starting at UK universities from the autumn. At a time when universities are already managing the demographic dip in the 18-year-old population, this is a real concern. The many international students who chose the UK may either stay closer to home, or be forced to because of an inability to meet language testing and subsequent visa processes in time. Much of the £6.9bn contribution of international students to UK universities is at risk, while previous estimates suggest the total net benefit to the UK economy from international students is £20bn per year, around £100,000 per non-EU student.

Universities are doing all they can to reduce costs, sometimes through taking difficult decisions. Whether it is recruitment freezes or tighter controls on spending, there will need to be some pain on this.

But we cannot face this financial storm alone. Without proactive support from government – both through investment and policy changes – some universities will face financial failure, with severe impacts on their students, staff, local community and regional economy.

Universities UK has reached out to the chancellor, along with the secretaries of state for education and business, to present a package of measures designed to support universities across all four nations of the UK. Their support would ensure universities remain able to withstand the very serious financial challenges posed by Covid-19 and play a central role in the recovery of the economy and communities.

Within this package is a call for targeted support for key courses that will educate the next generation of public sector workers, and for retraining and reskilling people whose jobs are affected by coronavirus. We are also asking for funding support for universities to maintain the UK’s research excellence, and policies to encourage international students to study here.

We have also proposed transformation funds to support some universities to adapt over the next few years to achieve longer-term sustainability, and a focus on ensuring high-quality provision of skills to meet the economic needs of the post-Covid environment. Reskilling, and a focus on local communities and businessess needs, will be a key part of that. If this means strengthening partnerships between universities and further education colleges, then that would be something to celebrate.

Universities are committed to doing everything we can to support the immediate coronavirus effort, and to help students, communities and society rebuild following it. By supporting both the financial and policy measures we propose, the government can help universities to play a central role in the nation’s recovery.

Alistair Jarvis is the chief executive of Universities UK



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