by Quinn Gray, Essex Socialist Party
Birkbeck, University of London and the University of East Anglia (UEA) are proposing dramatic job and budget cuts to cope with deficits of millions of pounds. On the eve of its 200th anniversary, Birkbeck plans to cut 140 jobs by July 2023, with more to be announced, due to a deficit of £13 million. UEA has had a £13.9 million loss in 2021-22, and has proposed compulsory redundancies, savings across all departments and want services such as cleaning, libraries, security and student support to reduce budgets by 10-20%. UEA has also asked staff to temporarily reduce their hours, take unpaid career breaks, or voluntarily reduce their salary!
Birkbeck vice-chancellor Professor David Latchman is one of the best-paid university leaders in the country with a salary of more than £385,000. Both Birkbeck and UEA University and College Union (UCU) branches have passed a vote of no confidence in their senior leaderships.
UEA and Birkbeck have been suffering from falling student numbers in recent years. Birkbeck saw its intake fall more than 10 per cent in 2021-22 compared to the previous year. ‘Concrete’, UEA’s student newspaper, reported: “In 2022, UEA fell short by 8% of their entry targets (following a 17% shortfall in 2021) – which had… an ‘adverse financial impact of £6.4 million.’” Concrete also revealed: “Rising energy costs were… stated as a reason for the debt, standing at ‘circa £5 million in the last year.’” The cost-of-living crisis has been cited as a reason students are choosing not to go to university, in a recent article published by the Financial Times.
Entry requirements for some UEA courses have risen for the 2023-24 year, in part to deal with the increased competition among more prestigious universities. Birkbeck markets itself as ‘London’s evening university’, boasting accessibility for working students by hosting classes between 6-9pm.
I graduated from Birkbeck with my postgraduate degree in 2022, having to study online during a period of extreme turmoil in my life due to being a victim of domestic violence during the 2020 pandemic. I was working and studying to secure financial independence for myself. The academic and administrative staff were sympathetic towards my situation, and if it were not for their support I would not have chosen Birkbeck as my place of study. Cutting staff may solve these deficits in the short term, but will have long-term effects on their reputations and the quality of education students receive.
Socialist students calls for
- No redundancies, no course closures! Support university workers taking action to save jobs, courses and departments. To build fighting student organisations to link up with staff and campaign for the resources we need
- Fully funded, high-quality free education. Scrap tuition fees, take the wealth off the super-rich to fund education and living grants
- Nationalise the energy companies alongside the banks and big business to be run under democratic working-class control and end the cost-of-living crisis