No job cuts at Birkbeck, University of London!

No job cuts at Birkbeck, University of London!

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George Birkbeck started this petition

Birkbeck, University of London – one of the UK’s most distinctive institutions of higher learning, which puts research excellence at the heart of accessible lifelong education and social mobility – is under grave threat. On the eve of its 200th anniversary, Birkbeck’s senior management has announced a major institutional restructure that could lead by July 2023 to cuts of 84 academic and 56 administrative jobs across the College – up to a quarter of academic staff and up to half of administrative staff, with further central professional services job cuts to be announced.

The proposals would combine the merger of several distinct departments with job losses across the College, including up to 11 staff in English, Theatre and Creative Writing; up to 10 in Geography; up to 7 in Politics; up to 7 in Film, Media and Cultural studies; up to 6 in Philosophy; up to 6 in Language, Cultures and Applied Linguistics; up to 7 in Economics, Maths, and Statistics; up 6 in Organisational Psychology; and up to 3 in Computer Science and Information Systems. Meanwhile a sweeping centralisation of professional services would see the College lose up to half of administrative staff.

The implications of these proposals are dramatic and unprecedented in Birkbeck’s modern history. Birkbeck’s student community is one of the most diverse in the country. Many of our students are mature learners, or the first in their families to earn a degree. Most are studying after or around the working day, or around caring responsibilities. Many are migrants and refugees. We are concerned about the impact the restructure will have on the existing, over-stretched support structures in place for our diverse student body. Our administrators in particular carry out crucial and under-acknowledged work supporting students with disabilities, and a reduction of administrative staff or wellbeing services will have a detrimental effect on Birkbeck's legal duty to support such students. Some taught programmes will unavoidably close, due to a decline in requisite subject expertise. Strategies to support our diverse community of research students is largely absent from the current proposals. And for those staff remaining after the restructure, unmanageable workloads will inevitably result in negative student experience. We will no longer be able to offer the same tailored support to our students, and this will in turn harm the word-of-mouth advertising which has long been central to Birkbeck’s reputation and growth.

What is happening at Birkbeck is partly a symptom of sector-wide problems, including the lifting of student number caps, and the more general marketisation of UK higher education. But in this context, Birkbeck’s senior management have effectively set out a plan for managed decline. The planned restructure poses a specific threat to the arts, humanities and social sciences at Birkbeck. The high number of proposed redundancies not only insufficiently account for subject-specific pedagogical approaches that may demand smaller class sizes, but underestimate the societal impact of these subjects more broadly. Of the ten ‘top skills for 2025’ listed in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs Report’ 2020, eight derive from the arts, humanities and social sciences disciplines. These subjects teach critical and nuanced thinking, creativity, communication expertise, and collaboration. They should be essential to the future of Birkbeck, and how the College fulfils its mission. 

Readers of this petition are urged to:

  • Sign this petition in solidarity to oppose these cuts and to demand that Birkbeck management and Governors let recent and on-going curriculum innovations settle, and that all other options have been pursued, before implementing decisions that will decimate the institution and therefore endanger its future.
  • Circulate this petition on social media, via email and listservs, and through word of mouth among all interested parties to raise awareness.
  • Write to Birkbeck’s Vice-Chancellor David Latchman (vc@bbk.ac.uk), Deputy Vice-Chancellor Matt Innes (m.innes@bbk.ac.uk), and Chair of Governors Andrew Cahn (a.cahn@bbk.ac.uk) outlining your serious concerns, and demanding that Birkbeck management work with the campus unions UCU, Unison and Unite to develop plans for the future of Birkbeck, including attracting more students.
  • Write to your MP and elected representatives to alert them to the threat these cuts and redundancies present to Birkbeck's future and to widening participation in higher education.
  • Actively support and publicise Birkbeck’s dispute, strike days and campaign events 
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