Plans to terminate temporary contracts at the University of Sussex have been slammed by unions representing contractors working on campus.
The university’s vice chancellor Adam Tickell wrote to budget holders last Wednesday asking them to review all temporary and casual staff and terminate unnecessary expenditure.
The university issued a statement the following day saying it would honour all fixed term contracts and staff in posts funded externally would continue.
But the university’s branches of UCU, Unison and Unite have now issued a joint statement condemning the plans.
It said: “We are deeply concerned about the impact these measures, if implemented, would have on the lives of those affected, particularly for some of our most precarious colleagues, and particularly at this time of global pandemic.
“These Financial Review Guidelines’ have been introduced at a time when we, as staff and students of the University, are desperately trying to cope in the current crisis while moving our teaching, learning, research and administration to remote working where possible.
“We are making huge efforts to do this and to preserve, as much as possible, the experience of the students we value so highly, and on whose fees the university relies.
“Communications from colleagues and Heads of Schools across campus have expressed overwhelming gratitude to staff and students for their collegiate and community-minded response to the crisis; and shared how thankful and proud they are that we have come together to work as a team.
“We would suggest then, that the Vice Chancellor has greatly underestimated the value of good-will, community and collegiality at the University of Sussex.
“We believe he has also underestimated the value of universities in society and the role we play in critical times. He has rushed to implement a financial plan, under the radar, that is ill-judged and ill-timed.
“We have asked the Vice Chancellor to urgently revisit the financial guidelines document and withdraw any plans that will negatively impact precarious staff, and called for him to refrain from making rash unilateral decisions and to follow accountable processes in decision-making.”
A spokesman for the University of Sussex said: “A communication was sent to the University’s senior budget holders yesterday with guidance on expenditure, as the University makes important financial decisions to manage the existing and potential challenges ahead.
“The University is currently in a sound financial position but given the uncertainty that many sectors are facing, we need to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation.
“The guidelines asks our budget holders to hold on recruiting new permanent staff until further notice as well as a reduction on non-essential expenditure.
“We are also asking all budget holders to review all temporary agency staff arrangements, if they are not business critical roles. We want to be clear that all fixed term contract payments will be honoured till the end of the contract and then reviewed before 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.
“Those contracted research staff that are externally funded will continue to run as normal.
“We understand that these are trying times for many people and we will be ensuring that we provide clarity to our staff on these matters.”