Staff at De Montfort University created new ways of teaching ‘overnight’ to keep the institution going when the pandemic hit – now they say they face losing their jobs, the careers they have built over the years and possibly their homes. The university announced it was planning to cut 58 jobs last month, citing the ongoing impact of the pandemic on student numbers and the cost of living crisis.
Two of the academics who are facing the threat of redundancy have now told LeicestershireLive they have been made to feel ‘unwanted’ and ‘unvalued’ by the university. “We’re being treated not like professionals but like numbers on a spreadsheet,” one said.
“The staff [at risk] are those who actually kept the university going during the pandemic. They sacrificed their own personal lives to turn around new modules, new ways of teaching, making sure the students wouldn’t be disadvantaged, literally overnight.
READ MORE: Union’s outrage at ‘offensive’ job cuts plan as it claims university is sitting on £120m cash
“We are the ones who kept the university going with the delivery of teaching and learning. We feel it is not particularly fair that, now we’re through the pandemic, what we get back for all our efforts is that we are going to be made redundant.”
She claimed the university was targeting professors, assistant professors and readers. “These members of staff are really important for keeping the university going in terms of it’s reputation,” she added.
“In the longer term, how is the university going to attract more students when the members of staff who are more prominent and successful are not going to be there any more? Why should the students study at the university if that expertise isn’t going to exist any more?
“We’ve put our research at the service of the university and the university is not valuing this. Now we are just a cost, not a value or an asset to the university. This really really hurts.”
A second academic said his department had just redesigned its teaching programme. However, the redundancies mean half of the staff who are supposed to be delivering it will no longer be working at the university when it is introduced..
He said: “We’ve just had to restructure our entire teaching programme which comes into play next academic year. [It was] described as a brilliant new offering by our external examiners and then they’re going to be removing half the staff who are going to be teaching on this programme.
“So we’re not going to be able to deliver the wonderful programme we had designed. Okay yes, DMU is running at a loss this year and did so last year and is forecast to do so next year, [but] we have £120m or thereabouts in cash reserves, so there are plenty of means to cover these costs and see whether or not the new programmes actually recruit the students.”
“In my particular case I’ve been here over 30 years,” he added. “The feeling I had was that I was not wanted and I was not valued for what I had done for the university.
“I’ve done a lot of things for free, off my own back, and it feels like the university do not value what I do and in some cases do not even know what I have done over the past 30 plus year.”
A spokesperson for the university said: “DMU does have cash reserves, some of which are being utilised by the existing financial deficit the university is facing. These reserves have to be protected to ensure we have adequate funds to support the management of our risks, enable the university to respond to fluctuations in cashflow as well as ensuring necessary investments to support our essential and business-critical activities. Failure to maintain adequate cash reserves would lead to regulatory action for any university.”
Both academics told LeicestershireLive that they were worried about whether they would be able to find another job if they were made redundant. “I have a family, I have a mortgage to pay,” one said.
“I will probably not be able to pay my mortgage in a couple of months time. So we were particularly shocked by the university using the cost of living crisis as explanation as to why they have to cut the jobs.”
“It’s not going to be possible to find a job [that quickly] and our careers and personal lives will be affected by it,” she added. “We really felt like someone had pulled the ground from under our feet all of a sudden.
“Why not use a gradual approach where you work with staff to see what the solution could be, rather than just tell them ‘you cost too much, so in a couple of months you won’t have a job’. It’s a very brutal approach.”
“It is a very scary looking prospect,” the second said. “I’m of an age that finding another job is going to be a challenge to begin with.
“I’m going to be back onto the job market for the first time in a very long time. If I do find another job, it’s probably going to mean huge upheaval, moving house and things like that.
“It has had a profound effect on my wife’s health. She has an existing health problem, which, since this announcement has been made, has been exacerbated.”
The DMU spokesperson added: “The unavoidable financial impact of the pandemic has been substantial in higher education institutions and DMU is no exception. Reduced student numbers in some areas mean that we need to consult on possible redundancies where we have lower student numbers and high numbers of staff.
“While these measures are the very last we wanted to take, they are being taken to ensure the university remains financially strong into the future, which in turn enables us to keep providing high quality teaching, learning and research. We are committed to delivering all of these to the highest standard possible.”