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Covid-19 scientists' outcry at Imperial College's plans to axe vital staff

8 June 2020

Members of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team have warned against plans to cut staff who have made their life-saving work possible.

Imperial College told 281 staff in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that 156 of them were at risk of losing their jobs. Imperial says it expects 75 staff to be made redundant, meaning more than a quarter of the department will go, with the first jobs expected to be axed in July. However, the University and College Union (UCU) fears the losses may be higher. Imperial says the cuts will save £2m and the restructure will take eight months.

The Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team has been advising government on how to respond to the pandemic and its modelling of the spread of coronavirus informed government's decision to go into lockdown. Members of the team said their globally important work relies on the support of the ICT staff who are now at risk.

The University and College Union (UCU) said it was incredible that Imperial was even considering cutting so many staff in a department vital to the global fight against Covid-19. UCU said it wants to work with Imperial to make the case for government funding to support the sector's vital work, but that it would fight to keep every member of staff.

Covid-19 Response Team member Dr Samir Bhatt is advising the state of New York as it comes out of lockdown. He said: 'For weeks now, all of our Covid-19 response work has had to be done remotely. It goes without saying that our work is of significant public health importance, both within the UK and around the world, and it would have been impossible without the Imperial ICT staff and their heroic efforts in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.'

Another member of the team, Dr Seth Flaxman, senior lecturer in statistical machine learning in the Department of Mathematics and senior author of multiple reports into the pandemic, said: 'Since I joined Imperial's Covid-19 Response Team to help with statistical modelling all of my work has happened remotely. My team has published a major paper in Nature quantifying lives saved by lockdown, for which we relied heavily on specialised computing services supported by Imperial's ICT staff.'

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The Covid-19 Response Team's groundbreaking work relies on the crucial support of the very ICT staff Imperial is threatening to sack. We are worried that Imperial may try to cut more than the 75 staff they are admitting they want to get rid of. It is incredible that Imperial would risk undermining the fight against Covid-19 by starting an eight-month restructure to get rid of over a quarter of the staff in such a vital department in the midst of this global pandemic. We want to work with Imperial and make the case for government to provide the funding the sector needs, but we will fight to keep every member of staff.'

Last updated: 12 June 2020