sessional teaching
Image: Warwick Media Library

Warwick to cut at least 50% of sessional teaching spending next academic year

The University of Warwick is making cuts to sessional teaching spending next academic year, as part of a £50 million savings target. 

The cuts will affect academic staff employed on a Sessional Teaching Payroll (STP) contract. 

This comes after vice-chancellor Stuart Croft outlined his commitment to protect jobs in his community update video in March. 

In an email seen by The Boar and sent to staff, Provost Christine Ennew said the budget spent on sessional teaching for the 2020/2021 academic year will be reduced by at least 50%.

The planned spend on sessional teaching next academic year was £11 million and sessional teaching makes up 15% of spending on the direct cost of academic staff delivering teaching. 70% of teaching at Warwick is conducted by workers on STP and fixed-term contracts. 

The announcement comes after the University revealed that it is planning for a “financial shortfall in excess of £100 million” for the next academic year. 

In the email, Provost Ennew stated: “Regrettably, this means that there will be fewer opportunities for our sessional teachers in the coming year.

“I know that a message about reduced opportunities will be particularly hard for our sessional teachers and we have tried to ensure that we continue to offer teaching opportunities where we can and where there is a clear need. 

“This decision has not been taken lightly but it is necessary, given the truly exceptional challenges that we are facing.”

I know that a message about reduced opportunities will be particularly hard for our sessional teachers and we have tried to ensure that we continue to offer teaching opportunities where we can and where there is a clear need

– Christine Ennew

Warwick Anti-Casualisation have claimed that “if each of the 183 staff earning above £100,000 per annum agreed to cap their income at £90,000”, the sessional teaching budget would not have to be cut. When contacted by The Boar, the University declined to provide a response to this claim.

One PhD student who spoke to The Boar said: “Casual tutors are the backbone of Warwick’s teaching, we are told we are valued, but instead of offering us protection and stability, the University shows we are disposable. 

“Teaching will be complicated next year, with the expectation that some of the delivery will be moved online, the rest should be flexible, seminar groups will need to be smaller to allow physical distancing in classrooms. 

“Reducing the teaching workforce right now is the wrong decision, especially as it will just increase the workload of academic staff who are already struggling to keep up with mounting responsibilities,” they added. 

On 19 May, the University announced that the next academic year will be taught through a blend of face-to-face teaching and online learning, adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

Another final-year PhD student told The Boar that PhD students who are self-funded or self-funded for the fourth year “are told at the beginning many times before accepting the place, that they can compensate through sessional teaching”. 

“If you are a self-funded student who at the same time cannot rely on family money, this is going to hit you especially hard,” they added.

Many universities across the UK have adopted a hiring freeze, including Warwick, “for any posts that are not business critical”. This has prompted concerns for PhD students and early career academics, who fear that cuts to the sessional teaching budget and consequently lost jobs will find it difficult “to be hired into more permanent positions”. 

Dr Katja Laug, University and College Union (UCU) Warwick Anti-Casualisation Secretary claimed: “In the immediate future early career academics will face financial hardship. It also means that our ties to academia will be severed which affects our ability to produce research because we won’t have access to library resources and laboratories.

Teaching will be complicated next year, with the expectation that some of the delivery will be moved online, the rest should be flexible, seminar groups will need to be smaller to allow physical distancing in classrooms

– Warwick PhD Student

“A solid research profile is an absolute key factor in the decision making processes on hiring panels. Essentially, this places an entire generation of Early Career Academics at risk of never even having a shot at working in academia,” she added. 

Dr Laug also claimed: “We cannot benefit from the government’s furlough scheme because the University takes the position that furlough cannot be granted where the salary/pay is funded by public money (here this is taken to mean student fees).” 

As a Residential Tutor, Dr Laug alleges that she may lose her accommodation as the University requires a contract “to be eligible to remain in University accommodation”. 

When contacted for comment by The Boar, the University said: “The eligibility to be in the Residential Life Team for someone engaged in sessional teaching would relate to them being a postgraduate student already, not because of their sessional teaching.”

To be a volunteer for the Residential Life Team, the University requires volunteers to be either a “full time or part time postgraduate student, student on the MBChB or a member of University staff with a minimum paid commitment of 15 hours per week”, according to the website.

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Warwick branch of the UCU, in partnership with Warwick Anti-Casualisation, have set up a Mutual Aid Hardship Fund to support staff employed on casual contracts by Warwick and its subsidiary Unitemps. 

The fund aims to support those staff who have lost hours, pay and their jobs as a result of Covid-19 and has raised over £10,000 so far.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the University said: “There will be less need from the sessional teaching budget next year. Staff have been furloughed. In fact the government has specifically guided universities that we can, and indeed should, use the furlough scheme. 

“The scheme protects the jobs of the very people being furloughed as the government then pays for 80% of their salaries. Every measure we are taking is aimed at protecting jobs by preserving jobs now and enabling us to recover and rebuild in the future.”

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