Sheffield University halts plans to cut pay and cancel promotions

Sheffield University has halted proposals to cut salaries and promotions for staff due to financial concerns related to coronavirus after the institution found that more students planned to go there than expected, boosted by the government lifting its cap on intake numbers.

In an email to staff, the human resources department said that a recently launched consultation on cost reductions would be closed. They said the pandemic had not “put students off going” and the government lifting the cap on how many people they could accept meant their intake could be higher.

They noted that other cost-saving measures had also helped, including voluntary redundancies resulting in “£12m in staff salary savings for 2020-21”.

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The measures that were being proposed included pay freezes, pausing incremental pay progression, cancelling or deferring promotions and a reduction in pay.

The University of Sheffield branch of the University and College Union said in July that any planned changes would be premature.

In a tweet, it said: “Uni management has told staff that if an agreement is not reached in the 90-day consultation, they may unilaterally impose any/all of the above changes to terms & conditions via dismissal & re-engagement.” This means in effect that staff would be dismissed and rehired under new terms and different contracts.

On hearing news of the end of the consultation, the union said: “The university has withdrawn its s188 notice and the threat of dismissal and re-engagement that was hanging over staff has been removed. We’re pleased to see this but remain disappointed at what was always a premature and unnecessary move by our employers.”

The university had praised the lifting of the government cap on student numbers, saying it meant it could accept more students who met the terms of their original offer.

But Mark Pendleton, a senior lecturer in Japanese studies, said: “We cannot accept significant increases in student numbers. It is unsustainable and dangerous in terms of F2F [face-to-face] teaching, bad for student experience, terrible for staff workload and stress, and potentially devastating for the sector.”

The university said the changes that prompted its new course were: “Firstly, the furore surrounding the A-level results and university places has shown that the pandemic has not put students off going to university and has actually demonstrated an increased demand.

“Secondly, the government’s decision to change how A-level results are awarded, and the subsequent lifting of the cap on student numbers, also means that we can accept more students who meet the terms of their original offer. In light of this, there is also the potential for further government support and our university continues to push for this.”

In its email, the university said since launching the consultation it had reduced spending on many non-staff areas, improving its financial position.

“Over the past few months, colleagues have worked tirelessly to put us in the best possible position for this coming academic year and beyond. As a result of these collective efforts and changes, it is now our view that such an extreme adverse financial situation is less likely to arise. We have also put in place additional steps to mitigate significant reductions in our income,” the email read.

The university has been approached for comment.

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