Students “disappointed and horrified by the news” that University of Brighton plans to make ‘critical worker’ IT staff redundant, while senior management take home £1.5million a year.
In late 2020, the University announced plans to restructure IT services, threatening 49 jobs and ultimately leading to the compulsory redundancy of 8 staff. Students and staff at the University were stunned to learn of the plans to remove IT staff, who had only recently been designated ‘critical workers’ by the UK government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Senior management annual pay at the University of Brighton is £1,443,040, including the Vice Chancellor’s salary of £244,040. It is unclear why critical IT workers have lost their jobs in the name of delivering “efficiencies in our service” while each one of the senior management team takes home a 6 figure salary.
According to Dr Mark Abel, branch chair of Brighton UCU, the justification for redundancies no longer stands. “The VC justifies the restructure of IT Support on the basis of a review carried out in September 2019, well before anyone had heard of Covid-19 or could imagine the scale of our current reliance on IT.” One member of IT staff who has received a redundancy notice explains that IT staff are not redundant in any meaningful sense of the word. They point out that due to the excess of work coming in, “information services actually has a triage-type function” and that “over the last few quarters the workload has increased, not just with the Covid, but with all the other things that are going on as well.”
Students studying Occupational Health are one of several groups that have expressed their support for the strike action taken by staff at University of Brighton, saying they are “disappointed and horrified by the news that the University is planning to cut IT support”. In an open letter to the VC, they ask, “Where are our fees going if they are not paying for resources that are essential to us and all of the teaching at this time (and all times)?” No public response to this open letter has been given.
Instead, what has been made public is an embarrassing gaffe where the VC ironically revealed the importance of good IT practice. The VC accidentally included a student in a reply intended for their personal assistant telling them to “hold all emails and ensure they receive a standard reply so that neither Ruth nor I respond directly.” As one current student commented, “Nice to know she doesn’t wanna speak to the students she’s responsible for.”
Various student groups have made public statements of support for the striking University staff and are planning a range of actions including rent strikes to make their voice heard.
No Start to Semester 2
Staff at University of Brighton will strike on Monday 8 – Friday 12 February 2021, putting a stop to the first week of semester 2. Their demand is simple: rescind the redundancy notices for IT staff. Dr Abel explains that this will hit students hard. “We work at a University because we believe in the value of education. We do not want students’ education to be disrupted. These strikes will, sadly, have a negative impact, but the impact of on-going reductions in staff levels will be disastrous and we will fight to prevent it. The VC could prevent the industrial action by calling off the redundancies.”
An online rally in support of the strikes will take place on Monday 8 February, with speakers including Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP for Streatham, UCU President Vicky Blake and students at the University of Brighton.