The staff we can’t afford to keep


Students, staff and common rooms have the fight of our lives this term. Last year, the university’s Business Process Review part 1 (BPR1) led to severe cut backs and redundancies among support staff, especially in colleges. As a result, college services have come under significant strain. Remaining college staff are now overworked and underpaid, often on less than a 12-month salary. Now, the university is preparing BPR2 which will result in further cuts and could signal the death knell for colleges as we know them.

The reason for these budget cuts is the chronic underfunding of UK universities by Labour and Conservative governments. The university’s senior management have long believed that Durham’s staff bill, especially in colleges, is a large fixed cost that should be reduced as an efficiency saving.

Our staff bill is indeed large. But then, why are we going after the jobs of the lowest-paid staff in the university? Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge is paid roughly £300,000 per annum, double the salary of Boris Johnson. Palatinate has reported how Professor Corbridge has work-related business-class flights paid for him by the university, a luxury that most private firms do not award their CEOs.

Stuart Corbridge is surrounded by a slew of other senior managers with similarly astronomical pay, office budgets and expenses. It is this ‘senior leadership team’ that imposes cutbacks and redundancies on our lowest-paid staff, even though their own salaries are never subjected to efficiency savings.

The argument in favour of paying university managers six-figure salaries is that this helps attract the best and brightest to Durham. However, unlike the college staff who are being made redundant, most of our senior management have no long-term commitment to the North East. Most of them come to Durham between other managerial roles, or from a military background.

Professor Corbridge has work-related business-class flights paid for him by the university

They want to use their time in Durham to leverage a higher-paid job somewhere else, perhaps in the United States. Pushing through a difficult staff restructuring, unpopular expansion plans or toxic performance goals are preferred ways to do this.

Rather than being inspirational manager-leaders, senior executives in UK Higher Education are best compared to a plague of locusts, swarming from one institution to the next, destroying the livelihoods of students, residents and workers while they progress in their careers.

So who are the staff we can’t afford? We must ask whether our model of senior management is fit for purpose. We should do away with imported Vice-Chancellors and Pro Vice-Chancellors who expect six-figure salaries to come here. Instead, Vice-Chancellors, like heads of department, should be recruited from ordinary staff for two or four year periods and earn similar salaries. Then, they can hand over to their successor and return to their previous role, therefore living with the consequences of their tenure. This would save money and create a less toxic working environment, where managers have knowledge and compassion for their region and institution.

The current inequality in pay reflects an inequality in power. Wealthy men paid by student fees and public money are attacking the working conditions of local staff with already modest incomes. This must be resisted at all costs.

Photo credit: Terry Straehly via Flickr

14 thoughts on “The staff we can’t afford to keep

  • From a member of University staff, thank you so much for this. It is so difficult at the moment but it helps to know that our students appreciate what’s happening. For many of us you are the only reason we keep going.

  • Sad, but true: unless you (as consumers – their words, not mine – do something about it) nothing will change. I work for the university and would fully support a student strike – many of my colleagues would. To be taken seriously though, this has to involve mass refusal to pay fees. If enough students do this (or deregister for their courses at the same time) it can affect real change. As employees we can’t really do anything without your help. It might seem extreme, but this is what is needed to fix HE in the UK. Sadly, like most things, your education is now in the hands of the market (which you as consumers ultimately control).

  • Thank you Harry for writing this you have spoken up for us we have so many senior staff palatine centre will fall down under the strain staff are trying to keep going because we care so much for students

  • I am a research student in the science faculty and teach the practicals on an undergraduate module. Last year I was asked to take students formative practical work home to mark. Although it took me typically around 8 hours to mark I was paid for 2 hours worth of marking. I refused to mark summative work this year.
    I was asked to mark students formative coursework over Christmas. I agreed as it will look good on my CV. I spent around 50 hours marking but will be paid for 12 hours. This is taking the p!ss

  • Thank-you so much Harry, it means so much that you have our corner in this hard and stressful time. You caused a little stir in our department every one said how perfectly written the article was. My husband and I will both be effected by the upcoming changes as we are both employed by the university.

  • I have worked for the university for over 20 years and loved every minute un till the last 2 years . The uni has cut back staff but still want the same work. I am now myself waiting to see what happens to my job and hours of work. I have seen standards drop over the last 2 years yet no one seems bothered. I myself feel that students now do not get the service they deserve for what they pay. I am just a cleaner but still have standards as do other staff. It is such a shame as the college i work for use to be very neat ,clean and tiedy but now it just looks like no one cares any more. College staff cuts are going to cause alot of mental health issues for staff so thats how much the university cares about their staff.

  • Durham uni is a shocking place to work how the hell can one man be on all that mo eyes fuckxx disgraceful and people are losing there jobs

  • I have gone through phase 1 and look what happened to me.
    They made cuts with the lower staff, like myself I went from a full time staff to term time and then employed another person to do the job I had Done for years, I had to interview for my own full time job which I didn’t get, but a friend of the management got it even though I had done that job for over 20+ years if your face fits.
    Then to put the topping on the cake at Xmas I was looking at the uni jobs and believe it or not there was a grade 6 exec chef job advertised, why there is less staff now so why do we need more management.!!!!
    If they want to save money they want to start at the top not the bottom. I could make a few suggestions.
    And i can bet there is more of the same to come.

  • Supposedly they are wanting to cut back on cleaners and fix it to ‘once a term’ cleans or similar. I mean.. they do know what us students are like right? Someone pukes in our communal bathroom atleast once a week. Our cleaners aren’t given enough recognition, they are some of the friendliest people I know whilst Iv’e been here, always happy to listen.
    I get they might think of imposing more responsibility on us students to keep dorms to a standard, but lets be honest, what is a deposit to us when alot of us are getting free money for studying to begin with :/ Sure a few will take it on board but you can be damn sure im not being the parent figure where I am dragging John next door out of bed to clear away his sh!t in the corridor

  • Thanks students for being truthful. I as a cleaner for 20 years have seen it ,cleaned it and stood in it, I just feel so sorry now for you all as you pay enough for the service we provide now and for these big top people to slice it all to nearly no service at all its dam disgraceful. Thanks again for being so honest about what really goes on. I have seen loads of students from their first very shy years to graduate into a proud adult. Every student i have looked after over the years has always been polite and yes messy,filthy and some disgusting but always say thank you for the mess i have cleaned up. It is our job to make sure these students know how to look after them selves and they do take notice of us cleaners who keep the place spik n span so it helps them understand how to look after them selves with out their parents. So sorry to all you students who deserve the best few years up bringing in Hatfield. And now have to live in a slum Edith Davis

  • I remember when the fist phase of redundancies were occurring there were SIX jobs advertised on the University website for £70,000 and over. And yet the university has done very well over the past 200 years, and certainly before Stuart Corbridge’s tenure WITHOUT pro-vice chancellors and numerous other high to mid-management roles.
    Always the same – “we need to save money, let’s start at the bottom…”

  • Well-done for this piece. It was necessary and much needed. Completely agree with the Vice-chancellor being one of the university staff! It seems slavery if there is not much promise for the staff and the Northeast region. Kudos! For a brilliantly highlighting the problems faced by the lower staff.
    On the last note, it would be No Durham without its bustling college life. Completely reject the idea of college been managed through a centrlised governance.

  • “Rather than being inspirational manager-leaders, senior executives in UK Higher Education are best compared to a plague of locusts, swarming from one institution to the next, destroying the livelihoods of students, residents and workers while they progress in their careers.”

    Beautifully put and sadly all too true.


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