University of Brighton staff begin five days of strike action this Wednesday in protest at redundancies in its IT department.
The university has restructured the department, resulting in the loss of several positions, with eight staff being told their jobs are at risk.
The University and College Union (UCU) says making cuts to IT at at time when teaching is moving online is “potentially disastrous”.
However the university says the restructure will make the service more flexible and able to respond to the demands of virtual learning, and that the union has misrepresented the changes to members and students.
Mark Abel, chair of Brighton University UCU, said: “The university’s plan to reduce and centralise the technical support for IT would be a mistake in normal times. During a pandemic when most university teaching and learning is taking place online, it is potentially disastrous.
“Teaching staff will no longer be supported by dedicated IT technicians based in schools, but will have to log their IT problems in a centralised system and wait for them to be addressed however urgent they are.
“This is bound to impair the quality of education that staff can deliver and that our students have the right to expect.
“We also think it is indefensible for the university to be sacking its staff during a pandemic. Unlike pubs and restaurants, universities have not been forced to close down as a result of covid.
“Universities are collecting fees from more students than ever this academic year. Staff are run off their feet with work. There’s no excuse for job losses.”
UCU members at Brighton voted 70% for strike action, 90% for action short of strike on a 60.3% turnout. The strike dates so far announced by the union are December 2, 7, 10, 15 and 16. Strike action will be accompanied by a continuous work-to-contract.
The strike is also being supported by students. Psychology student Sam Bailey posted: “Full support and solidarity with @BrightonUCU who will be taking strike action to protest redundancies across IT dept.
“Ridiculous to enforce redundancies in IT especially now we are all learning remotely online! Thank you IT staff, we see you.”
Criminology student Mais said: “#SaveBrightonITStaff are we really paying £9250 a year to have online based learning with no IT staff? Ridiculous.”
The Brighton Student Solidarity Group have circulated an open letter to the Vice Chancellor outlining a range of demands including that the University complies with UCU’s demands in the industrial dispute.
A University of Brighton spokesperson said: “We regret that members of the UCU have chosen to take this action and that the local branch persists in misrepresenting the facts to their members and to our students.
“The University recognises the vital role that IT provision plays in supporting teaching and learning, especially during the pandemic. But it also needs to ensure that these and other services respond to user feedback and the specific challenges of delivering consistent, high-quality support across a large learning community – particularly one that is currently operating in a mix of on-site and virtual environments.
“In such circumstances, our modernisation of our delivery is more necessary than ever. Our students and staff have told us they want more flexible frontline IT support that can be accessed remotely and which is available at times when they are most needed. The new model will enable this.
“We are pleased that the majority of our current IT staff are being retained in the new structure and have already been assigned to new roles.
“Regrettably, a small number of roles are no longer required, but where this is the case the colleagues concerned are currently being supported through a formal consultation process.
“This approach is consistent with the university’s long-standing commitment to avoiding compulsory redundancies wherever possible.
“The university has supported its staff in delivering a consistent and high-quality learning experience to its students throughout a period of unprecedented disruption. Our proposed changes are designed to enhance that further.”
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