University of East London (UEL), UCU dispute
The dispute at the University of East London over restructuring and cuts that are happening now and proposed for the future. Newham Trades Council support changes resistance to the changes that are currently being forced through at UEL.
These changes include:
- UEL is the only London university making compulsory redundancies.
- UEL put 441 staff at risk of redundancy and lost 100 staff with Voluntary Severance.
- union victimisation – the 11 compulsory redundancies include 4 UCU activists, including the Chair and V/Chair.
- unnecessary job losses have left staff with unsustainable workloads.
- cuts have damaged world-class programmes and research & the university’s capacity to carry out its basic functions.
- increased money wasted on top management and consultants.
- top-down management, squashing internal scrutiny.
What is happening:
Despite Covid-19, UEL has recruited well, and has met its financial targets for this year.
But this summer, in self-declared pursuit of its ‘Vision 2028’ plan for the future, it put 441 staff in an ‘at risk’ category, generated voluntary redundancy for around 90 posts (more actual staff, as many posts were part time), reduced the contract fractions of many other staff, and currently has twelve staff still in line for statutory redundancy. Those staff include the chair and vice-chair of UCU, the academic staff union, and a high concentration of social sciences professors.
By the end of this ‘restructuring’, UEL will have removed at least ten professors across the university and will have pushed more than 100 colleagues to take voluntary redundancy, and many more to accept reduced contracts of work. The proposed eleven compulsory redundancies will be the only ones in London higher education institutions.
The financial case for making these changes is not convincing. The loss of student numbers predicted as the fallout from the pandemic did not materialise, and staff submitted alternative business plans which would make equivalent savings. We need to look elsewhere for the reasons for these restructurings and cuts.
UEL is focusing on ‘vocational’ education. It is removing research from staff’s work responsibilities, and even from the relevant pro-VC’s title (now ‘Impact and Innovation’). The cuts have disproportionately affected programmes which do not provide an obvious ‘professional’ qualification. Anthropology, English, history, digital media, and cultural and film theory have all been cut recently. UEL management aims, we think, to turn UEL from a university, into a kind of training college.
UEL management also now thinks professors are too expensive, so its profitability will be enhanced by sacking them.
This is just the first stage. Next year, the university has refused to rule out imposing the changes to employment contracts that were threatened over the summer.
What is the impact?
Apart from the damage to UEL staff, what is the cost to students? UEL is an institution with a large proportion of BAME students, local students, students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students who are the first in their family to go to university – and now, students from boroughs hit hard by Covid, especially Newham. It also has a commitment to teaching students from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds. The loss of staff is already affecting our ability to deliver the thorough, holistic, and student-centred education we know our students deserve.
Covid-19 is worsening the situation imposed by UEL management. The university has insisted on ‘dual delivery’: face-to-face and online teaching and learning in parallel. That has generated many safety concerns. It has also placed an even larger teaching burden on staff already working extra hard to transfer teaching online, and to support their students, who often have limited digital resources. So UEL’s students now have lower numbers of overstretched staff to teach them, in situations where they themselves are facing ongoing and new difficulties.
At the same time, the university’s clear message to the majority of our students is that they are not the kinds of students who deserve to have access to highly qualified professors.
Younger and more junior academic staff face uncertain futures. Much concern has rightly concentrated on contracts for temporary or hourly paid staff – cancelled because of Covid, now reinstated, but just as insecure. At the same time, this is a new message from a university: it is keen to be a university with little senior academic expertise or research.
What you can do to help:
Write to our Board of Governors and University Executive Board
The University Executive Board and the Board of Governors need to hear voices of resistance to these ongoing and proposed changes. If you would like to support us, we ask that you please contact the Board of Governors, and the University Executive Board. We think many of them may have real reservations about this brutal and unnecessary process. Hearing from you might just help persuade them to act.
Any letters please write to all members of the Board of Governors, and to all members of the University Executive Board.
Tweet and share support by tagging:
#SaveUEL and @UEL_news
You can also tag:
@c2hsa (Hassan Abdalla)
If you tell UEL not to target our UCU Chair and V/Chair and 2 other UCU activists, please email the Board: