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Stephen Morgan MP calls on University of Portsmouth to save 'important jobs' threatened by cuts

24 July 2020
  • Local MP urges vice-chancellor Graham Galbraith to recognise damage his job cuts will have on university's reputation
  • University wants to axe seven of the 13-strong English literature department
  • MP's comments come ahead of crucial meeting on Monday that could decide department's fate

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan called on the vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth to think again over plans to axe staff in the English literature department.

In a letter* to vice-chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith, Mr Morgan urged him to recognise the implications his proposed job cuts would have on staff, students and the university's reputation. 

He explicitly calls on the vice-chancellor to take action to save the "important" jobs and asks Professor Galbraith to look again at counter proposals from the University and College Union (UCU) that could secure the long-term future of English literature at Portsmouth.

Stephen Morgan said that not only would Portsmouth's plans result in staff losing their jobs in the middle of the pandemic, it would leave those who remained with hugely increased workloads. Raising concerns from students about the quality of their degree, the MP warned that the cuts would drastically increase class sizes and see the department plummet down UK league tables.

The university originally announced the redundancy plans in February, which left 11 of the 13-strong team at risk of losing their jobs. The university put the plans on hold when the coronavirus crisis began, saying it wanted to remove worry and anxiety for staff.

However, it restarted them last month, despite nothing relating to the university's work policies, or the circumstances of the affected staff, having changed. It now says it will make a final decision on Monday 27 July.

UCU warned the cuts would leave the department unable to meet the demand from existing students. Echoing Stephen Morgan's concerns, the union said sacking teaching staff appeared at odds with the university's apparent commitment to teaching and the larger class sizes could put its recent gold standard award for teaching excellence at risk.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The University of Portsmouth has shown how little it values its staff by merely pausing the cuts at the start of the Covid crisis and then restarting the process whilst we are still in the middle of the pandemic. The vice-chancellor needs to listen to politicians, staff, students and campaigners and halt these cuts. The university needs to work with us to pressure the government to financially support the sector during Covid-19, instead of making cuts that would damage its reputation.'

The English literature courses receive a higher than average student satisfaction score (83% against 81% for the university overall) and the department climbed six spots up the rankings last year to 56th, despite the university overall falling eight places to 61st.

Campaigners also held an online rally where staff and students were joined by colleagues from across the UK and speakers included UCU general secretary Jo Grady, local councillor Cal Corkery and author Graham Hurley whose novels include the DI Joe Faraday books, which are set in Portsmouth. A petition against the cuts has reached over 12,000 signatures.

* Full letter:

English Department Redundancies at the University of Portsmouth 

I write following a meeting with the University College Union (UCU) and some members of your staff from the English literature department. I am concerned that proposed redundancies may be to the detriment of students and staff alike. 

I have been informed that the University's proposals would drastically increase class sizes, remove choice for English literature students, and risk putting Portsmouth literature programmes at the bottom of the UK league tables. I have seen that students are concerned that they will not get the degree they signed up for and that the study options available may differ to those that they signed up to, drastically effecting their university experience. 

There are also severe consequences for staff. Not only will these proposals leave staff who have spent years working for the University unemployed amid a pandemic and just before Christmas, it will also put undue strain on the remaining team. I have been informed that currently with 11 full-time and 2 part-time staff, the English literature department are at an average of 94% of the University's own contractual workload maximum. I have been informed that reducing staff by over 50% will mean that remaining staff will have to operate at a hugely increased workload that will be out of line with other subject areas in faculty. This will drastically impact staff wellbeing.  The UCU believes that this could potentially amount to a breach of contract, if the workload expectations for remaining staff breach the agreed maximum. This could affect the mental health of remaining staff, resulting in an increase in sick leave. 

I have also been informed that the English Department has been performing well, with the subject's intake increasing over the last four years and student satisfaction appearing high. I therefore urge you to assess the potential merits of looking over the Alternative Business Case for the English literature Department put forward by the UCU and staff members which could secure the long-term future of English literature at Portsmouth, ensure students continue to receive internationally recognised education, and enable the subject area to extend its sector leading research. 

I urge you to recognise the implications that these redundancies would have for students, staff and the university's reputation and take action to preserve these important jobs.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Morgan MP

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