Ahead of a rally on Monday, UCU’s battle to save jobs at Liverpool University is a critical fight for the whole sector
UCU members at Liverpool University are embroiled in a fight with management to save 21 jobs in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.
Liverpool University is one of the wealthy ‘Russel Group’ institutions that dominate the Higher Education sector in the UK. In the last decade student fees and research income have driven up their surpluses.
Surpluses have been used to embark on a significant building programme, with university buildings now dominating much of central Liverpool. They have also been used to pay huge salaries to senior managers.
In 2018/19, the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences had an income of £200 million, of which £43 million was returned to the central university, making it clear that there is no ‘business case’ for the redundancies.
Furthermore, the pandemic has not had a negative impact on their finances. In fact, it has boosted their operating surplus to £19.5million.
But the university is using the cover of the pandemic to restructure its workforce. Called ‘Project Shape’, the plan is to overhaul the Life Sciences Division. This section of the university includes some leading researchers in both Covid and cancer treatments. But these leading researchers have now found their jobs under threat.
The university originally announced there would be 47 redundancies. These were to be identified by the use of metrics, termed ‘rank and yank’ by union activists.
UCU pointed out that the metrics being used would mean that several Nobel prize winners would find their jobs threatened at Liverpool University!
Initial campaigning work from UCU managed to get the numbers facing redundancy down to 21. But given the healthy university finances there is no argument to get rid of 21 jobs.
Union activists are now clear that this is a management attack on one of the best organised UCU branches in the country.
Liverpool University Vice Chancellor is Janet Beer. Beer is a leading player in Universities UK – the universities bosses’ organisation. During the last year, there were 22 days of strike action across the higher education sector. Beer was regularly humiliated by the strength of the union response in ‘her’ institution.
The redundancies are a direct challenge to the UCU branch, but they have responded powerfully.
Three weeks of all-out action has been followed by 4 weeks of ‘Action Short of Strike’ (ASOS). This has essentially been a marking boycott. It has meant exam panels have been cancelled and graduation stopped.
The University has responded by docking members taking ASOS 100% of their pay and banning annual leave. Many UCU members have had no pay for 7 weeks.
Student work hasn’t been marked. But successful student-UCU networks have managed to make it clear where the blame lies.
External examiners across the University have all lined up to complain about the University ‘undermining standards’ by their actions.
There is every possibility that the Office for Students and the QAA may become embroiled as the students take a collective grievance over the University’s conduct.
The University is presently doing a very good job of trashing its degrees, its reputation and, potentially, its future recruitment. They seem prepared to do this to try and smash the union.
The stakes are exceptionally high. If the university wins, there is no doubt other managers will take heart and try something similar. If UCU are successful it will be a significant victory for the UCU across the sector.
The union are resolute and are planning more strike days. But they need support from UCU branches and other trade unionists to cement their victory. There will be a solidarity rally in Liverpool on Monday 5 July.
Activists are willing to speak to any union meetings and would welcome donations to their hardship fund.
Send messages of support and requests for speakers to [email protected]
Donate to hardship fund here
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