Below we publish a response to the financial implications of the Covid-19 crisis at the University of Nottingham by members of the professoriate. It was submitted to the Vice-Chancellor and members of the University Executive Board on Tuesday. 

CDBU would like to invite institutions from across the UK to contribute similar accounts.


Responding to the Covid-19 crisis: a 5-point plan for the University of Nottingham. 

Higher Education (HE) at the University of Nottingham, as elsewhere in the UK, is under extreme pressure because of the coronavirus crisis. As it is unlikely that many international students will join the University for the academic year 2020/2021, there will be a significant shortfall in tuition fees. Nor is it fair that universities should seek to recoup revenue by seeking to increase its recruitment of home students at the detriment of other UK universities.  

Ultimately, the precarious situation of the University is the result of an increasing marketisation of higher education, in which education has become a commodity to be bought by those who can afford it. This dependency on the ‘student market’ now undermines the viability of provision at our university.  The University of Nottingham is especially vulnerable to these shocks because of the focus we have placed on international campuses and particularly high levels of international student recruitment. 

We believe the University must respond to this crisis with a robust plan to ‘weather the storm’ while, in the longer term, addressing some of the features of our higher education system that have exposed the University to these risks. What is vital at this critical stage is to respond as a University community and to avoid short-term responses that risk causing irreparable damage to morale and capacity. We are particularly concerned that resort to an immediate ‘spending freeze’ and redundancies (including compulsory redundancies) will extend into the longer term and have devastating consequences for early career staff and those seeking academic careers, similar to what was last seen in the 1980s.  

The crisis has shown that academic and other staff at the University need to be fully involved in decision-making and have collective ownership of it.  

Given the current crisis we propose the following 5-point plan: 

1. The University draws on appropriate financial resources (reserves and borrowing) to minimise the short and medium term impact of the crisis.

The specific nature of the pandemic makes it likely that the financial impact experienced by the University will be relatively short term. Given its generally sound financial position we urge the University to recognise the need for specific short-term support and to commit to borrowing as necessary to tackle the problems we face.  Maintaining morale and capacity will ensure the University is well placed to recover as the sector emerges from the immediate impact of the pandemic. 

Alongside the commitment to invest through the downturn in income the university must also work closely with the wider sector to immediately lobby government for emergency support for higher education (likely to be one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic) and for a student recruitment cap, which needs to be lower than the currently envisaged 5% increase on previous numbers in order to protect the sector as a whole.  

2. Full transparency of financial accounts and planning with financial decisions, which have significant academic implications, to be subject to agreement with Senate.  

3. Open up governance – based on principles of collegiality and democratic decision-making restore Senate’s role as key decision-making body, and reduce the proportion of Senate who are members ex officio by virtue of senior managerial positions; 

  • Restore collegiality at Faculty and School level, with key decisions relating to budgets and appointments discussed openly with, and subject to endorsement by, the body of academic staff in Faculty or School meetings; 
  • Institute systems which will re-establish a formal role for local and regional public bodies in the University’s governance (along the lines of the former Court).   

4. Support for staff 

  • Guarantee continuing employment in 2020/2021 for all currently casually employed colleagues or staff on fixed-term contracts ending before the start of the next academic year; 
  • Immediately stop any outsourcing plans, which are part of the increasing marketisation of HE; 
  • We anticipate that moving to online or blended learning will be expensive to deliver at the proper level of quality and will need newly-appointed staff. We call for an end to the freeze on posts to meet student expectations of high-quality education; 
  • A one-year, or potentially two-year, solidarity levy on higher earners, strictly for the purpose of ensuring continuing employment of people on precarious contracts. 

We recognise that the university needs to find savings, but we believe that this can be approached by capping higher salaries within the university. We believe that this will also elicit public sympathy when universities are seeking taxpayer funding.  

As a preliminary position we propose ‘bottoming out’ the financial crisis by an initial set of caps that will ‘overshoot’ the targeted savings and, thereby, establish security for existing members of staff while creating a surplus that can be invested in early career appointments necessary to the effective delivery of a changed curriculum. This can be reviewed once the new academic year has started and the precise nature of the academic shortfall is known.  

5. Establish a Commission on future of the University of Nottingham as a public university;

With involvement from a broad range of local, national and international stakeholders. Now is a time to ‘reset’ – to fundamentally review our role as an institution and to renew the traditional concept of the university – as a public good, based on public service values, academic freedom and democratic governance. 

We believe that a bold commitment by the University to borrow and invest, combined with a solidarity levy on the pay of more senior colleagues, offers the best prospect of helping the University successfully navigate the current crisis. Such an approach involves a collective response by the University to maintain quality provision through a strong commitment to all the staff of the institution, especially those whose employment is often precarious. 

In the longer term we believe the sector must seize the moment and fundamentally reassess the role and purpose of higher education as an essential part of a public democratic space. The University of Nottingham can, and should, play a leading role in shaping that debate. 

Signed: 

Ross Balzaretti, Professor of History, Department of History 

Peter Bartlett, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust Professor of Mental Health Law

School of Law and Institute of Mental Health

Peter H. Beton, Professor of Physics, School of Physics & Astronomy 

Andreas Bieler, Professor of Political Economy, School of Politics and IR 

Tony Burns, Professor of Politics, School of Politics and IR 

Steven Fielding, Professor of Politics, School of Politics and IR 

Andrew Fisher, Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy 

Steve Giles, Emeritus Professor of German Studies and Critical Theory, School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

Penny Gowland, Professor of Physics, School of Physics & Astronomy 

John Holford, Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education, School of Education 

John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology, School of Sociology 

Judith Jesch, Professor of Viking Studies, School of English 

Antoni Kapcia, Professor of Latin American History, Department of Spanish, Portuguese & 

Latin American Studies 

Marek Korczynski, Professor of Sociology of Work and HRM, Nottingham University Business School 

Kirill Krasnov, Professor of Mathematical Physics, School of Mathematical Sciences

Dino Kritsiotis, Professor of Public International Law, School of Law

Stephen Legg, Professor of Historical Geography, School of Geography 

Andrew Leyshon, Professor of Economic Geography, School of Geography 

Helen Lovatt, Professor of Classics, Department of Classics and Archaeology  

Suzanne McGowan, Professor of Freshwater Sciences, School of Geography

Simon McGrath, Professor and UNESCO Chair in International Education and Development, School of Education

Monica McLean, Professor of Higher Education, School of Education

Irit Mevorach, Professor of International Commercial Law, School of Law

Marko Milanovic, Professor of Public International Law, School of Law

Philip Moriarty, Professor of Physics, School of Physics & Astronomy 

Tony Padilla, Professor of Physics, School of Physics & Astronomy 

Paul Roberts, Professor of Criminal Jurisprudence, School of Law

Thomas P. Sotiriou, Professor of Gravitational Physics, School of Mathematical Sciences

Howard Stevenson, Professor of Education, School of Education 

Gregor Tanner, Professor of Applied Mathematics, School of Mathematical Sciences

Mike Heffernan Professor of Historical Geography

Uwe Vinkemeier, Action-Medical-Research Chair of Cell Biology