Up to 140 Birkbeck staff threatened by ‘knee-jerk job cuts’ following student number drop

UCU said this would be a ‘disaster’ that would ‘severely harm student learning’

Birkbeck, University of London, has been revealed to be considering scrapping up to a quarter of teaching and a third of administrative job posts by next July.

The University and College Union (UCU) claimed this is the uni’s attempt to make up for a “multi-million-pound deficit” due to a drop in student numbers. But the university denied this, telling The London Tab that the cuts are just a result of them restructuring due to changes in course popularity.

Mike Berlin, president of the Birkbeck branch of UCU, said these cuts would “severely harm student learning” and threatened industrial actions if these plans were to go ahead.

Birkbeck, referring to itself as “London’s evening university,” takes pride in being “a distinctive and radical institution of accessible higher education” with a “contribution to social mobility and lifelong learning.” 

But the UCU claims that this reputation will be threatened if the uni is going to follow through with cutting up to 84 academic and 56 administrative roles by next summer.

The uni justified this potential scrapping of up to 10 per cent of all jobs, some of which it claimed to already be vacant or about to become vacant, “to reflect changing demand for subjects from students.” But the UCU alleged that Birkbeck needed to make the cuts “to fill a multi-million pound deficit caused by a fall in student numbers.”

According to the UCU, these cuts would cause the most damage to the department of English, theatre, and creative writing, with 50 per cent of roles threatened by the cut in English alone.

The revelation of these plans comes as Birkbeck UCU “overwhelmingly voted for a motion of no confidence” in the uni’s leadership and for industrial actions. It was also revealed as more than eight in 10 national UCU members voted in favour of UK-wide strikes last month.

President of Birkbeck UCU, Mike Berlin, said: “We will not allow hard-working staff to lose their jobs because of mistakes by senior management. Birkbeck’s cuts, which do not include any plans for recovery and growth, are a recipe for managed decline.

“The cuts would severely harm student learning and jeopardise the university’s commitment to social mobility and lifelong learning. We urge management to rethink its knee jerk job cuts and instead work with us to look at how we can attract more students. If the university refuses to do so, we will have no option other than to begin taking steps for an industrial ballot.”

A spokesperson for Birkbeck said to The London Tab: “Birkbeck is currently consulting on proposals to restructure and reshape its Schools, departments and processes to reflect changing demand for subjects from students.

“The consultation is part of a wider strategy published in 2021 which aims to develop the university’s educational offer, extend the reach and impact of its research, and increase its income whilst maintaining its academic breadth, in a changing and challenging economic environment.

“If approved, it is true the organisational change elements of the strategy could affect 140 posts, however, a number of these are already vacant or will become so over the next few months as staff leave, including to other roles outside the university and through retirement.

“Birkbeck believes that, if approved and implemented, the organisational change proposals will not adversely affect the student experience at the university. Indeed, they will ensure there is greater parity in staff to academic staff to student ratios across the organisation and combined with other proposals, free up academics’ time to concentrate on teaching and research, rather than administrative duties.”

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