Teaching quality fears

Hundreds of staff are due to quit the University this autumn, saving the institution £13million but causing concern that the cuts will have a negative impact on teaching.

Five per cent of University of Sheffield employees have opted to leave through a Voluntary Severance Scheme (VSS) put forward by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Keith Burnett, as a way to “bridge the significant gap between the University’s predicted expenditure and its income.”

Professor Burnett expected the University’s earnings to fall £25million short of its outgoings by 2011, and hoped to save £15million through the VSS.

But the Sheffield branch of the University and College Union (SUCU) has said that the “sweeping cuts” of 320 staff will affect the quality of teaching.

A SUCU spokesman said: “It is foolish to think that this will not have an effect on student learning and teaching.

“Sixty-seven out of the 320 people leaving are academic staff but all teaching staff rely heavily on the support team in departments and central services. If – or should I say when – academics are asked to perform more non-teaching duties this can only result in less of their time being available for students.

“SUCU are very concerned about how the University plans to cover the resulting gaps in teaching without compromising the quality.”
Education Officer, Holly Taylor, has warned that the University cannot use the situation as an excuse for processing students’ work outside the normal timeframe.

She said: “The VSS doesn’t mean departments have an excuse for being slow at returning assessment feedback and this is something students should not be prepared to tolerate in the coming semester.”

But she made clear she believed students’ education would not suffer as a result of the cuts.

“There is absolutely no way students should be faced with second rate teaching because of inadequate staffing,” she said.

“I have been assured by Paul White, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching, that each head of department has made every effort to ensure the loss of staff will not negatively impact on teaching standards.”

In a message to all staff, Professor Burnett said: “I recognise that there will be challenges in the short term as we adapt to the new staffing levels and to new and more flexible ways of working.”
Yet SUCU claim that staff have still not been given adequate guidance on how to deal with the losses.

A SUCU spokesman said: “The University has agreed with SUCU that you cannot reduce a workforce by such a large amount and not affect delivery.

“As yet we have not seen any evidence of guidance or advice to help heads of department or service managers deal with this problem.”

The staff union has issued a warning to its members not to “agree to unreasonable and excessive workloads in order to cope with a situation that the University has created.”

Some departments will suffer more heavier losses than others and the University is currently working with campus unions to try to identify any particularly hard-hit areas or departments.

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