‘University of Wetherspoon’s’: Sussex Uni under fire for terminating staff amid pandemic

The university has been accused of ‘profiteering off a health pandemic’

The University of Sussex has requested departments to terminate the contracts of temporary agency staff as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In an email sent to department heads, Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell has called for casual and temporary agency staff to be terminated “as soon as possible”.

The email contained a budget guideline set out by the university’s finance director with the clear instructions that temporary staff must have their contracts reviewed, and “where possible, terminated as soon as possible”. This includes Doctoral Tutors and School Tutors.

The guidelines requested that “tasks should be reassigned to other members of your team or non-critical tasks may need to be temporarily suspended”.

When approached for comment, a spokesperson for the University of Sussex urged The Sussex Tab that the university remained in a “sound financial situation”. However, they added “given the uncertainty many sectors are facing, we need to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation.”

The spokesperson also told The Sussex Tab: “We want to be clear that all fixed term contract payments will be honoured till the end of the term, which may result in a new contract being offered. In many cases, the agreements are for medium to long-term periods of time, so the review will not be taking place immediately.

“If these roles are considered critical to the running of the organisation, the agreement will be renewed.”

However, this news has been met with hostility by both students and staff. Many have taken to social media to vent their anger at university management.

One staff member commented on Facebook: “I’m so disgusted and upset that he [Adam Tickell] can be paid upwards of £300k a year yet is asking departments to let go of staff like me who are only paid 10-20 hours a month.”

Another MA student wrote on Facebook: “So disappointed with Sussex. I’m an MA student and was considering staying on for PhD but am seriously reconsidering. I don’t want to be somewhere that treats staff (and ones that have made my experience great!) like this.”

One Twitter user nicknamed the university: “University of Wetherspoon’s?

A petition has been started to urge the university to reverse the decision. The petition accuses the university of “profiteering off a health pandemic, throwing their most vulnerable staff under the bus to save a bit of money.” It has currently amassed over 1,000 signatures.

Sussex University and College Union released a statement last week urging  compassion from university leadership: “We already know that the effects of COVID-19 will fall hardest on the most disadvantaged; the University of Sussex must do all it can to mitigate these effects amongst its own staff and students”.

They added: “The University of Sussex Executive has the opportunity to show compassion, courage and moral leadership in these most challenging of times. It must rise to the occasion.”