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Open letter for publication on support for University of Essex and its staff (27 May 2020)

Essex UCU Anti-casualisation Working Group

University of Essex

Wivenhoe Park

Colchester

CO4 3SQ

 

27 May 2020

 

Cllr Mark Cory

Will Quince MP

Bernard Jenkin MP

Open letter for publication on support for University of Essex and its staff

 

Dear Mark, Will and Bernard,

We are writing to ask what action you are taking in your capacities as Leader of Colchester Borough Council and MPs for Colchester and Harwich and North Essex, to ensure that the University of Essex and its staff are given the support they need to survive the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

You may be aware that the University has recently confirmed that it will not be renewing the contracts of staff on fixed term contracts once they come to an end, effectively cutting hundreds of jobs from its payroll and plunging hundreds of local people into financial hardship. You may also be aware that these precarious jobs have been a central and consistent part of the University’s workforce for many years, and are not simply a minor or marginal part of its business model (as the sheer scale of job losses makes clear).

Behind every one of these job losses is a human tragedy, with people’s financial security, career prospects, personal relationships, and immigration statuses being thrown into jeopardy. Many of those who are losing their jobs have worked for the University consistently on these kinds of contracts for many years (you can read testimonies here). They should never have been denied the security of a proper contract, they worried about being so reliant on the goodwill of the University, and now their worst fears are being realised as that goodwill evaporates and they are tossed aside in the midst of a global pandemic.

This situation is, in part, a result of the fact that an adequate plan to avoid the collapse of the university sector has not yet provided. We agree with the University and Colleges Union that “the government must underwrite funding lost from a fall in domestic and international student numbers”. However, senior management at Essex have also not adequately and openly consulted with unions and staff about finding a way forward, and we believe that were they to do so it might be possible to draw on our expertise to devise an emergency budget that protects all staff instead of sacrificing the most vulnerable.

This is important not just for those who are about to lose their jobs, but for our whole borough. As you know, the University is an integral part of our borough and a major local employer, with over 2100 staff and 15317 students all working and studying at the University, living in the local area, and spending into our local economy. In addition, like all universities, Essex has a key role to play in leading the research response to the pandemic and providing expertise for dealing with its effects. The survival and success of the University of Essex and its staff is therefore central to our local area’s economic and public health recovery from the pandemic.

In light of this, can you tell us:

  1. What action you have taken and intend to take to lobby the government to ensure that the University has the support it needs to survive the pandemic?
  2. Will you express your concern at the decision to make the most vulnerable members of the Essex University community pay for the crisis by cutting the jobs of those on precarious contracts?
  3. Will you join us in calling on Essex’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Anthony Forster, to share all relevant financial information with staff and unions at Essex, and consult openly with them so that alternative budgetary solutions which avoid job losses can be explored?
  4. Will you lobby the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan MP, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, to produce a comprehensive package of support in line with UCU’s recommendations to safeguard this vital sector and the essential contribution that the University of Essex makes to our local economy?

We look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

Essex UCU Anti-casualisation Working Group