Sheffield University to cut jobs as it faces £100 million loss caused by virus crisis

Sheffield University is to make job cuts as part of a package of measures to tackle a £100 million loss of income triggered by the coronavirus crisis.

By Richard Blackledge
Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 11:28 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 5:19 pm

Staff are being invited to apply for voluntary severance, and bosses are considering giving workers the option of reducing their hours or taking extra unpaid leave to save money.

It comes on top of measures already taken by the university as the higher education sector battles the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused the closure of campus buildings, stopped important events and hit research funding.

Employees have been furloughed through the Government's Job Retention Scheme, some capital projects have been paused, new job posts and contract extensions have been put under review and ‘non-essential’ spending curbed.

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Sheffield University's Firth Court building. Picture: Steve Ellis.

The university, which has nearly 7,000 members of staff, is also looking at reducing its 2021 budget by 15 per cent.

Fewer students are expected to enrol on courses in September. Last month Sheffield University said it had weighed up 'two potential recruitment scenarios’ for the 2020/21 academic year – the most dramatic assumed no international students would take up their places, equating to a 50 per cent reduction in tuition fee income.

Each year the university attracts around 7,000 international students from 150 countries; it has particularly strong links with China, which sends a significant number of undergraduates and postgraduates to Sheffield each year.

But there is uncertainty around travel restrictions – and even UK students may choose to defer their start dates too.

Koen Lamberts, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University. Picture: Scott Merrylees.

In emails to staff seen by The Star, the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts said: “Our financial modelling shows that we now need to plan for a £100 million loss of income.

“In the face of this loss, we must take all reasonable steps to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the university.

“It is important that we make efficiency savings where possible, and alongside the Voluntary Severance Scheme we have asked colleagues on the University Executive Board to work through the implications of a 15 per cent reduction to budgets for 2021.

“We will need an exceptional, university-wide effort to overcome the challenges ahead, with a particular focus on student recruitment and ensuring we provide the best possible education and student experience.”

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The severance scheme is open for applications until July 1, allowing staff to voluntarily leave their employment in return for a payment. All departures will take place by August 31 at the latest.

The payout will be calculated as a month's salary for every completed year of service, with a minimum payment of five months' wages and a maximum of ten months. Staff on fixed-term contracts need to have at least two years remaining on their contract to apply.

“Whilst we need to create opportunities for future operational efficiency and effectiveness, we are deeply committed to preserving our excellent teaching, learning and research,” Ian Wright, Sheffield University’s interim director of human resources, told staff.

“We will ensure that the scheme does not compromise our academic endeavour and student experience and does not prevent our recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We will make decisions to release a member of staff on a clear and robust business case in the interests of both the individual and the university. Business cases will need to demonstrate sustainable and ongoing savings, plans for future delivery of work and how any potential impact will be mitigated.”

Prior to Covid-19, the university expected to receive an income of £780 million during the 2020/21 academic year. This would be made up of £346 million of course fees, £87 million of funding council grants, £238 million of research grants and £110 million of other income. Of the course fees, £177 million related to international student fees.

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