Staff and students build the fight back against redundancies at the University of Birmingham

On Wednesday the 16th of March, the second consultation about the restructuring of the Birmingham Modern Languages department took place.

The first consultation meeting attracted only a handful of students after they were given just 24 hours notice from the University. Yet on the back of a one-thousand-strong petition in support of a hostile open letter from a Languages student1, this meeting filled an entire lecture room with students demanding clear answers.

The proposals obtained by Socialist Students to the Languages department include redundancies of 12 language-focused staff members (in order to then hire 10 new research-focused staff) as well as the casualization of remaining teaching staff, who will be transferred from 100% contracts to 75% contracts that will not pay over the summer semester. The sheer level of anger the attendees felt towards these proposals was clear; many students expressed their concerns over staff cuts, and their worries that the standard of teaching may be affected by these staff changes.

In this context, all the more astonishing is the university’s claim that these changes are being made to improve student satisfaction and research output. Not only are there now over 1,000 signatures from students and alumni to the open letter, clearly condemning these changes1, but the most recent consultation showed that there is growing consensus among the department’s own students. With regard to research, the Department of Modern Language’s own website states that: “75% of our published work was judged to be internationally excellent or world-leading”, and that student satisfaction scores are above the university average2.

But these issues come on the back of wider restructuring across several departments, under which 89 members of staff are at risk as the university continues to seek maximum returns from its increasingly demoralised workforce. In a statement from the director of HR, obtained by Socialist Students, we can see the stark contrast with the misleading statement from University’s Provost, Professor Adam Tickell, that so far there had only been one compulsory redundancy and 188 full time equivalent posts created:

“A total of 150 posts were removed, generating a cost-saving of around £8m a year. We have increased the vacancy target from 3% in 2009/10 to 5% in the current year, so there is a 2% vacancy real saving, which in 2014/15 terms is over £6m over the five years. In 2012/13, we removed £5.2m of cost in-year to recover a shortfall in recruitment.”

So that now, on top of the continuing threats of redundancy, 1 in 20 posts will be left permanently vacant.

Having twice been taken down under pressure from the University of Birmingham, the initial article on Redbrick has now been reposted1. However, the veiled threats to staff continue as the University insists that all communication between staff and students go through their “change management group”, which, as reported by Private Eye, recently claimed that “No one’s interests are served by open discussion”.

After a year of negotiations, Birmingham UCU branch are now formally seeking to ballot their members on an ambitious week long strike action, commencing on Monday 13th June with a strike and protest at the open day on Friday 24th June to follow. This was passed unanimously in front of a packed lecture hall at their most recent members meeting.

Despite this, simply leaving the fight to the staff is not enough. Socialist Students call for wider solidarity with staff facing redundancies and students in the affected departments who are being impacted across the University, and if necessary, nationally. We must not be ignored and we must not be silenced. As we have seen with the victories over ‘Teach Higher’ at the University of Warwick and for Fractionals for Fair Pay (FFFP) at SOAS last year, major victories can be won if staff and students unite and coordinate their actions and demands4. In light of the University of Birmingham’s latest £45m surplus3 we call for solidarity with BUCU’s clear position of zero redundancies, zero casualization, and zero cuts to our education.

[1] (See Redbrick’s first article on the topic here)





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