We love our jobs and we are committed and passionate about education, but we are very concerned that we might not to be able to provide ‘what it says on the tin,’ because we are faced with an impossible task. Over the last few years we have seen a lot of things that have angered us as workers and as people who value education. We are talking about the implementation of the most severe cuts to education ever attempted in living memory in Britain.
In this letter we would like to talk about the experiences of some academic and academic related staff at the University of Bristol.
Let’s be frank: students will be paying more for less. Students may have glossy magazines and fancy rooms with the latest technology, but behind the scenes there is a lot of rot, and the stench is becoming more evident. The latest cuts have resulted in the closure of courses, increased staff workloads, redundancies and job downgrading. This means overworked and demoralized teachers, larger sizes of classes, and fewer contact hours for students. Some faculties have been reorganised and the management has employed new and divisive strategies, pitting younger against older, and more versus less ‘flexible’ staff, and facilitating the promotion of the more compliant or scared staff to key positions. This makes things easier for managers, because they can more easily manipulate staff to achieve compliance and not to question the implementation of changes, singling out those who would be motivated by purely financial goals. The level of hostility and aggression from the management to those who oppose the changes is alarming in a society that calls itself democratic.
This hostility has created a very unhealthy working environment. We know of excellent staff that have unfairly lost their jobs, some are undergoing counselling and treatment for stress related illnesses, others have suffered family and relationships breakdown aggravated by their situation at work. The salaries of some university employees have been reduced so much that they are barely scraping by. In some departments, the contracts of specialised part-time staff have been terminated in order to save money, and the remaining have been teaching subjects that are not in their area of competence. By doing this, the university is misleading students by not providing the kind of teaching they promise.
Students need to become aware of these issues so that they can take action. Despite this bleak scenario, there is hope. Some students refused to go to classes during last year’ s walkouts. Some occupied the Senate House and held lectures and debates. Some went to demonstrations. Some have joined forces with staff to fight back against the cuts. That is what inspires us and what keeps us going. We are learning a great deal from them.