On 4 May 2020, a brutal assault on Higher Education began when the University of Roehampton announced aggressive proposals to cut jobs with the launch of a severance scheme and — significantly — a proposal to cut pay for academics and professional staff from 1st August. Subsequently there has been a further attack on our working conditions with the announcement of increases in academic workloads and the suspension of research sabbaticals. This has occurred whilst staff are continuing to deliver high quality teaching and exceptional research, as well as rapidly develop new programmes to help increase university income during the pandemic. To date, details of the university’s plan for socially distanced teaching have not been clarified, but additional labour will certainly be required to adapt our programmes. In the given context, it is clear that any cuts would be unsustainable, unfair, and would have a damaging impact on the quality of teaching and research in the university, as well as on staff health and student satisfaction.
We already know that universities are capitalising on the good will of staff, their dedication to students, and their willingness to work well beyond contracted hours, which makes these moves to undermine collective solidarity, security, and support particularly egregious. We also know that the most vulnerable among us are now facing a double attack arising from the pandemic, as well as the marketisation of tertiary education: temporary and casualised workers, migrants, disabled, women and BAME staff and students will be the most affected by cuts. Meanwhile, the highest salaries and the proportion of senior management continues to balloon, undeniably problematic in the context of dwindling resources.
The marketisation of HE continues to play a significant role in the situation that universities now find themselves. Post-92 universities like Roehampton represent a key dimension of this increasingly challenging marketplace, particularly as the government seems to pursue ideological shifts driven by ill-informed notions of vocational skill and inappropriate assessments of ‘value for money’. These moves would amplify inequalities for staff and students, including those arising from the widening stratification of teaching and research.