For those of you who have seen the University’s recent ‘response to financial challenges’ you could be forgiven for finding it laughable. Not that any of what it contains is funny, only that the language they have used to justify what amounts to massive staff and services cuts across campus, is duplicitous and quite frankly illogical.
The statement from the University casually announces that up to 100 jobs are to be axed, but the true number is to rise to 115. But never fear, these job cuts are actually a good thing according to University management! They will conversely “help safeguard our future as one of the UK’s top research universities.” Yet how can this be the case? At the same time as announcing their planned redundancies, they tell us that we should be proud at how we have succeeded in dramatically increasing international student’s enrolment (it is of course no secret that these students pay two to three times more that those from the UK and EU.) So whilst we see ever increasing numbers coming to Sussex, we are, in the same breath told that services open to these increased student numbers are in jeopardy. A case in point is the potential closure or reduction of childcare facilities, a vital service for many on campus which allows those with families and single parents to pursue their academic ambitions. Other integral services that may also face cutbacks are the catering facilities, student support, UNISEX (the University’s sexual health clinic) and student advisors.
At this point maybe a little history lesson is in order. When the previous Vice-Chancellor Alasdair Smith stepped down in 2007, the Student’s Union embarked on a campaign to ensure that a student or sabbatical officer sat on the selection committee which would choose the next head of the University. After a fierce debate at the University’s Senate meeting, a victory was proclaimed. It was decided that considering the experience and expertise of some sabbatical officers, that they should indeed have the right to be part of the selection process. Yet when this issue went to the University council, they rejected and went against the will of the much larger and more representative Senate. Despite this we as students were given an assurance that the company used to search out a new VC would make significant efforts to take our views into account. At each of these meetings a clear consensus emerged. We wanted a new VC who would uphold and respect the tradition at Sussex, always putting students and academic integrity at the heart of policy. The University was apparently listening, taking our views into account. Yet now, three years later, we can be sure that we were duped, and given a Vice-Chancellor (Farthing) who seems much more intent on changing the culture at Sussex for the worse and embarking on a whole range of course and staff cuts.
As this weeks issue of The Badger reports, a massive group of students, staff and union representatives marched from Library square to Bramber house to make their views heard. The strength of sentiment was understandably and undeniably very strong. When the livelihoods of up to 115 staff are at risk, it seems that now more than ever we need to fight back. Who, we can be forgiven in wondering, will be next? Indeed though stating that the University doesn’t take decisions on staff cuts lightly they do not even have the heart to rule out compulsory redundancies. On this point they can be sure to face a massive backlash with their being a real threat of a cross-campus strike. On this Paul Cecil, President of Sussex UCU, said “we are at the beginning of intense negotiations with management to protect all jobs at risk. This campaign is also about securing the excellence of Sussex. We are confident that, with the support of students, we will be able to defend jobs, defend education, and Sussex.”
The University claims that these cuts are unavoidable, but as the response from USSU points out, “…there are now more staff on six-figure salaries than ever before, with the wage bill for the twenty top paid staff exceeding £2.6 million.” Perhaps it is time for management to re-assess their priorities.
This fight-back is one not just about staff cuts, but also fundamentally about protecting the diverse and inclusive educational culture at Sussex. Indeed as Richa Kaul-Padte, Chair of USSU Council states that “USSU will stand in solidarity with all campus trade unions and we will win the fight for our education together.” Certainly the large number of students and staff that turned out to protest the cuts attests to the feeling of disquiet across campus. Now more than ever we as a student body must come together in unison to protect our university and save it from what would amount a degradation of our core values and principles.