Despite saying that this decision has not been made because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the staff had planned to run or assist modules in the next academic year. The university has stated that it was merely informed by the staff not being needed again once their contract is up.
With the Politics department consisting of around fifty members of staff, losing eight members means the loss of 16% of this workforce. But with less staff comes less module choices, and it has been reported that there will be a 25% reduction in module choice for next year’s students.
Module choices were supposed to be made at the start of May, however this was pushed back until a later time. The University stated that they wanted to feel that they could offer students the “same high standards” that their courses usually gave, using this to explain the push back.
Just over four months ago, university lecturers nationally went on strike. One of their main concerns was the temporary nature of contracts. The unpredictability of work is an issue for a lot of lecturers both at Newcastle University and at other institutions. This has led to the creation of campaign groups like #coronacontract have been established to help secure the future of employees despite the difficult circumstances that they are currently facing.
During the lockdown, the Politics department has been working very hard, a member of staff has stated. They said that they have been trying to ensure that students “received the best education and support possible in challenging circumstances”, but that the thanks that the University gave them was to give them redundancy notices.
The students who are taught by these eight members of staff have strongly opposed their redundancy. This is seen by the petition that has gained over seventy signatures, started by student Maya Randell. In her email to Vice-Chancellor Chris Day, she argues that it is a “misjustice” for the “profound impact on my own and peers’ studies….to be overlooked and for profit to be prioritised over the high quality of teaching these staff have provided”. Randell reached out to her fellow students, and has said that she was “inundated with messages of disappointment and upset”, all because these were “some of the most supportive and engaging lecturers they have had”.
In response William Maloney, Head of the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, said that the University is “disappointed to see them leave” but that he wishes them “the very best going forward”. This email also contained reassurance that students “will not be impacted”.
The reasoning behind these lecturers going, Maloney stated, was that they were on a fixed term contract, something that they knew when accepting the job. They were “contracted to support teaching” while others were taking on “additional activities”. Because these other events have finished, the staff are now no longer needed.
Maloney expressed how the “long standing reputation as one of the leading teaching units in the UK means politics at Newcastle will continue to provide high quality teaching and pastoral care to support our student community”.
However, some students are still not happy. Politics and Economics student Joe Molander has said that although this change may not impact him directly, it is an “incredibly unfair thing to do”. He has stated that the University clearly has not listened to the messages from the strikes, and that it may bring issues to his and his fellow students’ learning. Expressing how “as a cohort, we’re at our best when we have breadth - not just depth - of knowledge”, Molander is worried that dropping modules will mean that “our understanding as students gets a little bit narrower. I think that’s a real shame”.