Impact on Universities

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Bewildered
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Impact on Universities

Post by Bewildered » Sun May 24, 2020 4:22 am

So in Australia Universities have budget holes in the order of hundreds of millions dollars, about $400,000, 000 for one I know the figures for. They are pressing massive cuts in spending on departments, we have spending freezes that apply to grant money as well as University money and there is a vote a jobs protection framework (JPF) https://www.nteu.org.au/covid-19/jobs_p ... _framework which is I think broadly a deal between them and the Union to allow them to cut salaries at the expense of the freedom to get rid of casuals and overall to avoid large scale cuts in academic jobs.

As far as I understand the hole mostly comes from losing international student fees, I think in particular from China where Australian Universities get very large numbers of students from.

Anyway I am wondering if there a similar problems in Universities outside Australia? or are Australian universities more affected because of the large reliance on internationals students and elsewhere things are OK?

I also wonder if any Australians have thoughts on the JPF? I think it is probably necessary and I think Australian salaries are quite good compared to other countries anyway (though I would add they are overworked and I personally think working conditions are bad) so cutting salaries temporarily should not impoverish australian academics, though individual circumstances can obviously change this. However I am concerned by what happens to postdocs on fixed term contracts. To me these are the amongst the most vulnerable, typically Working in foreign countries (at least in my field), without long term job security and the pressure to work as long hours as possible to maximise chance of getting another job or a continuing / “permanent” position, which are very rare, so most will fail in this. It seems the JPF does not exclude them from pay cuts. They are paid substantially less the those with continuing positions and while still comparatively well paid compared to international counterparts, feel the effect of the higher living costs much more, so disposable income is not as likely. More significantly I think they have no long term security and know they have to look for a new job at the end of their contract, in what are always very hard circumstances in academia (positions are rare at every stage and many fail to get them and drop out of academia) and now look extremely bad. In this sense I think asking them to sacrifice salary money they desperately need to support any gaps in jobs, relocation home etc in order to save jobs, or reduce the severity of the pay cut, of people with continuing positions who in principal already benefit from the exploitation of postdocs, sounds pretty awful. Of course the deal is saving causal workers who are also very vulnerable and maybe postdocs from having their contracts cut short, so I may be misrepresenting it a bit with that slant but since the overall aim is to avoid widespread job losses in academia so I think it applies to some extent. I don’t think this means it’s a good idea to reject the JPF but I am deeply concerned by the lack of thought put into postdocs and annoyed that the Union advertises this as protecting the most vulnerable while doing very little for postdocs.

One other thing is that I thought this would not affect most postdocs anyway, because most are funded by grants from research councils and not spending these should not save the University money long term. Indeed that’s what I assumed until I spoke to postdocs in my group, but they were very worried, and did not think that was the case . The spending freeze does apply to all money including grants so e.g. I currently cannot spend my own grant money even though it runs out this year and have not gotten any assurance that expiring grants will be given more leeway. This is because they have a liquidity problem as well as an overall budget problem and there is apparently just one pool of money, rather firewalled accounts. I would still hope they would prioritise cuts where it actually helped the bufpdget long term but I have tried asking management if salaries paid out of grants would or would not get pay cuts and got no reassuring answers. In general everyone seems confused.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Holylol » Sun May 24, 2020 3:51 pm

I remember having seen some tweets by people working is US unis about lay offs.
A quick google search brought me these links :

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltni ... 9c98ad74d5

https://www.chronicle.com/article/We-re ... ees/248779
Bewildered wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 4:22 am
I think it is probably necessary and I think Australian salaries are quite good compared to other countries anyway (though I would add they are overworked and I personally think working conditions are bad) ...
I'd say that academics are probably overworked in many places, in part due to the grant system to get fundings.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Sun May 24, 2020 4:04 pm

Holylol wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 3:51 pm
I remember having seen some tweets by people working is US unis about lay offs.
A quick google search brought me these links :

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltni ... 9c98ad74d5

https://www.chronicle.com/article/We-re ... ees/248779
Bewildered wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 4:22 am
I think it is probably necessary and I think Australian salaries are quite good compared to other countries anyway (though I would add they are overworked and I personally think working conditions are bad) ...
I'd say that academics are probably overworked in many places, in part due to the grant system to get fundings.
It's not clear that that's much to do with universities specifically, though - a quarter of the US workforce has been laid off already.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Holylol » Sun May 24, 2020 4:29 pm

I am not sure to understand what you mean.

Bewildered asked if COVID has an impact on university employment, and I provided links mentioning lay-offs in universities due to budget shortfalls.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by sTeamTraen » Sun May 24, 2020 10:21 pm

What happens, in practice, if you are two years --- and hence £18,500 in the hole on fees, more if you are non-EU --- into a three-year degree at the University of Bantshire, and the uni closes its doors due to running out of money? Does the government step in to keep enough of the place going to allow everyone who is mid-course to graduate?
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Millennie Al » Mon May 25, 2020 1:55 am

sTeamTraen wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 10:21 pm
What happens, in practice, if you are two years --- and hence £18,500 in the hole on fees, more if you are non-EU --- into a three-year degree at the University of Bantshire, and the uni closes its doors due to running out of money? Does the government step in to keep enough of the place going to allow everyone who is mid-course to graduate?
Then you are delighted to find that the university is closed as that means you can stay at home in China, where the government is competent, for a year and then come back to finish your studies when it is safe again. If the university has ceased to exist by then (or maybe just the course), there will be so many more people in the same position that something will be worked out.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Mon May 25, 2020 7:44 am

The last time something like that happened, when a number of institutions closed their chemistry departments - in the case of Exeter, their students were transferred to Bath, that had the capacity at that time to take them. But sure what happened to Swansea or Kings students. But it does rather depend on the capacity being there.

Next year is going to be very, erm, interesting.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Mon May 25, 2020 7:57 am

I don't have any particularly informed thoughts on the JPF. I'm keeping my head down, thanking everything holy that my boss finally got us decent length contracts last year and crossing my fingers for everybody else.

Our university gets ~12% of its total revenue from international students, and about half of them come from China. That income has almost totally disappeared and covid hit right at the start of the school year here, so most of our Chinese students couldn't get back into the country after their summer visit home. And for students from elsewhere, the travel ban came a bit later but still before the academic census date, which made it financially easy to suspend/cancel their studies. Add in that there's no government financial support for international students who have lost their part-time jobs and some of the ones who are left here are getting very hungry. Anecdotally, even domestic students have reduced their courseloads this semester too, since they're supporting siblings and children who are home-schooling, so that's an additional financial shortfall for the university.

The government's Jobkeeper plan doesn't apply to university staff either, so the uni is absolutely scrambling for cash. All capital works have halted (I've been through a few job cuts rounds and I've never heard of them cancelling capital works programs) and every new job, from a 2-week casual job to a head of school now has to be approved by a committee that includes the Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer, so that they can try to place an underused current employee in that role. Since 3/4 of the university's staff are casuals or on short-term contracts, we're all feeling pretty nervous about what happens at the end of contracts, regardless of career status.

I don't envy either the union officials or the university bean counters who are trying to navigate this. That said, rather than a pay cut, I'd prefer a reduction in hours - that would free up some cash to keep other people employed and free up some time for me in return for the reduced income.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon May 25, 2020 10:55 am

Holylol wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 4:29 pm
I am not sure to understand what you mean.

Bewildered asked if COVID has an impact on university employment, and I provided links mentioning lay-offs in universities due to budget shortfalls.
Sorry, I was a bit vague.

I was presuming that Bewilderd was asking about other countries to look for commonalities across the HE sector. I was just noting that jettisoning labour appears to be an especially common/easy practice in the US across all sectors, so what's happening there with HE might not translate elsewhere. I know that there are widespread issues with contacts in academia, though.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon May 25, 2020 10:56 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 1:55 am
sTeamTraen wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 10:21 pm
What happens, in practice, if you are two years --- and hence £18,500 in the hole on fees, more if you are non-EU --- into a three-year degree at the University of Bantshire, and the uni closes its doors due to running out of money? Does the government step in to keep enough of the place going to allow everyone who is mid-course to graduate?
Then you are delighted to find that the university is closed as that means you can stay at home in China, where the government is competent, for a year and then come back to finish your studies when it is safe again. If the university has ceased to exist by then (or maybe just the course), there will be so many more people in the same position that something will be worked out.
China? People paying £18,500 would be domestic UK students. Why would they be delighted to have to move back in with their parents in the UK where the government is incompetent?
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bewildered » Mon May 25, 2020 12:42 pm

Squeak wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 7:57 am
I don't have any particularly informed thoughts on the JPF. I'm keeping my head down, thanking everything holy that my boss finally got us decent length contracts last year and crossing my fingers for everybody else.

Our university gets ~12% of its total revenue from international students, and about half of them come from China. That income has almost totally disappeared and covid hit right at the start of the school year here, so most of our Chinese students couldn't get back into the country after their summer visit home. And for students from elsewhere, the travel ban came a bit later but still before the academic census date, which made it financially easy to suspend/cancel their studies. Add in that there's no government financial support for international students who have lost their part-time jobs and some of the ones who are left here are getting very hungry. Anecdotally, even domestic students have reduced their courseloads this semester too, since they're supporting siblings and children who are home-schooling, so that's an additional financial shortfall for the university.

The government's Jobkeeper plan doesn't apply to university staff either, so the uni is absolutely scrambling for cash. All capital works have halted (I've been through a few job cuts rounds and I've never heard of them cancelling capital works programs) and every new job, from a 2-week casual job to a head of school now has to be approved by a committee that includes the Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer, so that they can try to place an underused current employee in that role. Since 3/4 of the university's staff are casuals or on short-term contracts, we're all feeling pretty nervous about what happens at the end of contracts, regardless of career status.

I don't envy either the union officials or the university bean counters who are trying to navigate this. That said, rather than a pay cut, I'd prefer a reduction in hours - that would free up some cash to keep other people employed and free up some time for me in return for the reduced income.
Interesting most people I know think there will be no real difference between a time cut and a pay cut because for a time cut the university will probably just tell staff reduce research to fulfill the time cut, without actually reducing any of the burdens pushed on them. So in the end they just do the same work for less money.

I also appreciate that the union and bean counters are in a very tough position, but I do still feel the union has let postdocs down in this, and I tend to think it has just never been set up to support postdocs interests properly.

I don’t really understand university employment beyond people I actually interact with (if I even understand that) so I don’t know how many casuals employees we have and what roles responsibilities they have, so I found some of the discussion on this a bit confusion. In my school I think most of the people who are casual are support staff. We already just lost one person like that, which was quite sad as they were very engaged and helpful, and I don’t know if they get any help if the JPF comes through after. I think even teaching focussed positions are continuing or fixed term and faculty who teach and research should all be continuing, except for a few who on senior fellowships but no continuing position to follow, while postdocs are all obviously on short fixed term contracts (at least that’s how I understand it anyway). It sounds like it’s different for you?

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bewildered » Mon May 25, 2020 12:46 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 10:55 am
Holylol wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 4:29 pm
I am not sure to understand what you mean.

Bewildered asked if COVID has an impact on university employment, and I provided links mentioning lay-offs in universities due to budget shortfalls.
Sorry, I was a bit vague.

I was presuming that Bewilderd was asking about other countries to look for commonalities across the HE sector. I was just noting that jettisoning labour appears to be an especially common/easy practice in the US across all sectors, so what's happening there with HE might not translate elsewhere. I know that there are widespread issues with contacts in academia, though.
Yeah well the links were useful, as I am generally curious what is going on elsewhere, so thanks for those Holylol. I understand your point that the US is not particularly representative of other places though.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Mon May 25, 2020 12:59 pm

I'm "professional staff" as opposed to "academic staff" in the current parlance at my uni, though I still write the odd paper. I can't say that things got any more or less secure when I stepped off the academic train - I've run/lectured courses for 90 students on a 3 month part time contract and I've had a two year post doc and my professional contracts have run between six months and three years.

Some academics get made permanent before becoming a.profs but not all. And some low-level admin staff get made permanent too. At my uni, it seems to be a total crapshoot as to who gets deemed important enough for permanent contracts.

On time cuts, perhaps because I'm not on the academic track and I work in a small team, my boss and I would just drop stuff until what's left fits the time available. We already negotiated my role down to 80% when I started the job five years and four contracts ago and we've mostly kept my role to within those hours.

In contrast, post-docs are in the impossible position of having to compete with each other for not enough ongoing jobs so such time cuts would be less useful for them. But I don't know how to reform things to make their lives less precarious, short of reengineering the incentives for universities to take on PhD students without obvious career pathways for the other end.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon May 25, 2020 1:22 pm

Bewildered wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 12:46 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 10:55 am
Holylol wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 4:29 pm
I am not sure to understand what you mean.

Bewildered asked if COVID has an impact on university employment, and I provided links mentioning lay-offs in universities due to budget shortfalls.
Sorry, I was a bit vague.

I was presuming that Bewilderd was asking about other countries to look for commonalities across the HE sector. I was just noting that jettisoning labour appears to be an especially common/easy practice in the US across all sectors, so what's happening there with HE might not translate elsewhere. I know that there are widespread issues with contacts in academia, though.
Yeah well the links were useful, as I am generally curious what is going on elsewhere, so thanks for those Holylol. I understand your point that the US is not particularly representative of other places though.
Yes, I wasn't intending to diss Holylol - sorry it came across that way.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by science_fox » Mon May 25, 2020 8:57 pm

From our uni - we're basically ok for the rest of this academic year, although they've: just launched a voluntary severance scheme for anyone, with much reduced terms compared to previous ones; frozen all recruitment and promotion; stopped all purchases unless specifically cleared by Senior Leadership Team (Deans and above) etc. They furloughed a fairly random bunch of lower level people on 'core' funding (eg not grant based). However they are very very concerned about next academic year, but won't know whether it's bad, very bad or disastrous until students start applying (or don't). There modelling based on national figures expects about an 80% cut in income, but it could be up to 50%.

It';s a weird mix of national level funding agreements, union negotiations at branch level, and some but by no means all university sector wide discussions. Very little of this is passed down to staff directly.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Holylol » Mon May 25, 2020 11:46 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 1:22 pm
Yes, I wasn't intending to diss Holylol - sorry it came across that way.
I didn't think it was a diss, but a case of talking past each other.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Millennie Al » Tue May 26, 2020 1:34 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 10:56 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 1:55 am
sTeamTraen wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 10:21 pm
... and hence £18,500 in the hole on fees, more if you are non-EU ...
Then you are delighted to find that the university is closed as that means you can stay at home in China, where the government is competent, for a year and then come back to finish your studies when it is safe again. If the university has ceased to exist by then (or maybe just the course), there will be so many more people in the same position that something will be worked out.
China? People paying £18,500 would be domestic UK students. Why would they be delighted to have to move back in with their parents in the UK where the government is incompetent?
I was referring to the the non-EU part.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Tue May 26, 2020 1:42 am

Judging by this thread, spending most of the last decade at various universities has done little for my reading and writing skills.

I can down a pint of ale in 7 seconds, though.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Tue May 26, 2020 2:09 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue May 26, 2020 1:42 am
Judging by this thread, spending most of the last decade at various universities has done little for my reading and writing skills.

I can down a pint of ale in 7 seconds, though.
Frankly, given the current state of university funding, is there a way to monetise your ale gulping skills?

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Tue May 26, 2020 2:40 am

Squeak wrote:
Tue May 26, 2020 2:09 am
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue May 26, 2020 1:42 am
Judging by this thread, spending most of the last decade at various universities has done little for my reading and writing skills.

I can down a pint of ale in 7 seconds, though.
Frankly, given the current state of university funding, is there a way to monetise your ale gulping skills?
I expect the quickest way to improve my finances (and indeed academic output) would be to stop doing it, frankly.

Though I think I heard a colleague got some money from Big Whiskey for some research they did on breeding shorebirds near a Scotch distillery.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Holylol » Tue May 26, 2020 7:49 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue May 26, 2020 2:40 am

I expect the quickest way to improve my finances (and indeed academic output) would be to stop doing it, frankly.

Though I think I heard a colleague got some money from Big Whiskey for some research they did on breeding shorebirds near a Scotch distillery.
Since you are working on birds, can you expect some money from Big Bird?

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Martin_B » Tue May 26, 2020 9:27 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue May 26, 2020 1:42 am
Judging by this thread, spending most of the last decade at various universities has done little for my reading and writing skills.

I can down a pint of ale in 7 seconds, though.
Haven't tried in ages, but at my peak I could do it in 4 seconds. I did know a girl who could down the first in ~2 seconds, and the second in ~4 seconds.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Tue May 26, 2020 9:41 pm

A long read, but this article discusses the background of the finances of UK HE and the potential effects of COVID-19.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Allo V Psycho » Sat May 30, 2020 11:19 am

Thanks, Turdly, very interesting and informative.

Just as well we can count on our Government not to do anything divisive at this point, without extensive consultation and consideration.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2 ... -n-ireland

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Thu Jun 04, 2020 8:54 am

Long work meeting today to discuss this. We have to vote in the next couple of weeks on whether to accept the cancellation of this year's 2% pay rise + the cancellation of this year's position increment. Collectively, that will apparently save ~50 jobs across the university, more if they can persuade some people to voluntarily cut their hours or take a redundancy package.

And that's in addition to cancelling all capital works (apart from the ones with separate government funding) and taking on $130M debt to cover salaries for the next couple of years.

They are at least making noises about treating casuals/contact workers as insiders when it comes to protecting jobs and trying to shift some of our 75% casuals/contact staff into permanent positions as pay of trying to make the university more sustainable. We shall see if any of that translates into action. :/

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