The Student
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The University of Edinburgh placed in dire financial straits by Covid-19
by Daniel Sharpe, 14/05/20

In an email circulated to staff, Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson has stated that the University of Edinburgh is facing a drop in income ‘in the region of £70-150 million’ next year, as a result of losing international students and accommodation income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He predicted that the damaging impact on the University’s finances will last for at least the next four to five years.

Mathieson warned employees that “staffing and non-staffing costs” will have to be cut, beginning in August.

The Vice Chancellor announced that he and the rest of the senior staff are taking pay cuts, and no staff who earn over £100,000 per annum will be receiving a pay increase for the next year.

Research at the university is funded through cross-subsidies from more profitable activities, particularly income from international students and the accommodation, catering and events business.

Given that these areas are modelled to drop – with effects not just in the coming year but beyond – the money available for research will have to decrease.

In the email, Mathieson promised that “guaranteed hours” staff would have their contracts honoured for the remainder of the year and thanked staff for the “hard work” they are doing in adjusting to online assessment and teaching.

These staff are often paid by the hour and employed on fixed term contracts.

Examples include PhD students and post-doctoral researchers employed as undergraduate tutors.

Sources from the Edinburgh branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said that no employment guarantees have been made beyond July.

They expressed disappointment that the University of Edinburgh have so far rejected the union’s request to extend the contracts of the 48 per cent of the academic workforce on fixed term contracts.

Pandemic Precariat, a new campaign group, have called for the University of Edinburgh to ‘put people before profit’ and laid out ten demands, including protection for post-graduate research students, contract extensions for casualised staff and a maximum 5:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid members of university staff.

As of the afternoon of the eleventh of May, 339 people have signed a change.org petition in support of these demands.

Members of the group have told The Student that there has so far been no contact from University of Edinburgh staff. 

In the email, Peter Mathieson announced the creation of an “Adaption and Renewal Team” meeting weekly to guide the university’s response to the crisis, where ‘maintaining (the University’s) commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion will be a key concern’.

From the Edinburgh UCU branch’s public statements, it appears that there is no union representation on this panel, and Mathieson did not state what kinds of staff would make up the team.

It is evident that both staff and students are likely to be affected by the changing financial circumstances, and it seems that the impact of COVID 19 on the University of Edinburgh is going to last long after lockdown is lifted. 

Image: Official University of Edinburgh logo via Wikipedia