Unions slam university’s handling of Hastings campus closure

Students protested against the University of Brighton Hastings campus closure last week
Students protested against the University of Brighton Hastings campus closure last week

Trade unions described the university’s handling of the potential Hastings campus closure as ‘unsatisfactory’ and the decision-making process was ‘highly-questionable’.

UCU and Unison expressed concern over the way the University of Brighton had decided to close its Hastings campus after a number of issues came to light at a meeting on Wednesday (March 17).

The unions released a joint statement claiming the board of governors’ decision was not unanimous and the voting was below standard, contrary to what vice-chancellor Debra Humphris has said.

“Unison and the UCU intend to fight the closure of the Hastings campus, not only to save the jobs which depend on it, but also to defend the educational opportunities which this University gave a commitment to provide in the town,” Unison branch secretary Carole Chick and UCU coordinating committee chairman Mark Abel’s statement said.

“We believe both the process by which it was reached, and the decision itself, to be unsound and highly questionable.”

The joint negotiating committee (JNC) meeting between university management and the unions revealed governors were not provided with the report by consultants BDO, the decision was not unanimous and some governors spoke against the management’s proposal, the decision was taken using methods which ‘fell far short’ of generally-accepted voting standards as there was neither a show of hands nor a secret ballot and the wording may not have been any less vague than the public statements afterwards.

“This unsatisfactory way of conducting business raises questions as to whether the Board has adequately fulfilled its legally imposed fiduciary duty to protect the interests of the institution and those who work and study here,” Ms Chick and Mr Abel said.

According to the statement, the university’s academic board were not consulted nor included in the decision-making process despite claims from deputy vice-chancellor Chris Pole that the decision was based on academic considerations and not financial ones.

The unions were also concerned about the potential conflict of interest with the proposal to work with Sussex Coast College Hastings (SCCH) as Mr Pole also sits on its board of governors.

“Despite not denying that withdrawal from Hastings will inevitably result in staff redundancies, Debra Humphris and her management team have so far shown a marked reluctance to engage in good faith with the trade unions who represent the threatened staff,” the statement read.

“They chose not to take the opportunity of the last JNC in December to inform the unions of the review into the campus despite putting it out to tender in the very same week.

“They have still not provided us with the data relating to student numbers, drop-out rates and student satisfaction which ostensibly justify the decision. “Closure of the Hastings campus has not featured in any strategic plan or been the subject of any consultation exercise, the process so far having been characterised by secrecy and a lack of openness which believe the public claims of the vice-chancellor.”

The unions condemned the move to use SCCH as it has a ‘less than healthy’ financial situation, an ‘unsecure’ future, one of the worst average pay rates of any further education (FE) college and one of the biggest gender pay gaps.

But univeristy management claimed the proposals would help to improve the college.

“Bypassing the established governance structures of the University, it appears that the Vice-Chancellor asked for, and received, a blank cheque from the governors to renege on the institution’s previous commitments under cover of promises to develop ‘new models’ of provision with ‘a range of partners’,” Ms Chick and Mr Abel said.

“The proposed new ‘University Centre’ is little more than a euphemism for a few more UoB-validated courses franchised to the local FE college.

“We hope you will join us in opposing this damaging and potentially disastrous change of direction for the University of Brighton.”

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