Colleagues will be aware of the University’s worrying financial position. Both Vice-Chancellor Chris Husbands and Chief Finance Officer Ryan Keyworth have spoken about this in recent weeks in the Transforming Lives staff digest and all-staff meetings, and there will likely have been local communications and discussions as well.
Failure to meet student recruitment targets for 2023/4 (both home undergraduate and international) has left the University significantly short of income against budget. There are local factors, but Sheffield Hallam are not alone in experiencing difficulties; although the number of 18 year olds has increased, the number choosing to go to university has not increased as expected. Meanwhile, the higher education sector has been under sustained Government attack for many years, and undergraduate tuition fees (our main source of income) have been frozen since 2017, against a recent background of relatively high inflation. The system seems broken, but there is no sign of any serious political will to fix it. Hostile Government rhetoric suggests they would not be bothered if some universities were forced to close – there was a time when this would have been politically disastrous.
Members want to know what the University is going to do about this. There are plans to diversify income (online provision, the London project), but any financial benefits from that will not come to fruition in the short term. System and processes are being reviewed to identify efficiencies, although again will these come in quickly enough, if we do it properly? There are also plans which may be delayed or stopped, and other non-pay savings are being looked at.
More stringent vacancy and recruitment management has also been introduced – not, we are assured, a vacancy “freeze”, but definitely a wintry chill. This will leave teams understaffed, and pile even more pressure on busy colleagues. If you are experiencing stress due to an unmanageable workload, put your health first and raise the problem with your line manager. If you need support, contact UNISON.
The apparent urgency of the problem created an expectation of further announcements of other measures to be taken. But little else has been communicated, which is creating uncertainty. Are things not as bad as we were led to believe, or so bad that decisions are being avoided?
The University must resist any temptation to think it can simply cut its way out of trouble in the short-term. Redundancies, voluntary or otherwise, are not cost-free, and damage student-facing services as well as essential back-office operations as well as staff morale. Large-scale restructures are time-consuming, expensive, and seldom achieve everything they set out to achieve.
UNISON members want Sheffield Hallam to be successful, and work hard to make it so. While University leadership considers what to do, they should remember that Hallam’s staff are critical to its future.