Restructuring Politics at the University of Surrey: An Unexpected and Questionable Decision

By the CDBU Steering Committee

Last Thursday evening, academic staff at the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey received a communication from the department of Human Resources informing them of a proposal for ‘restructuring’ the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences. This was totally unexpected. The proposal in the document would lead to redundancy for four professors, two senior lecturers, and three lecturers – 57 per cent of the department. Politics would remain a taught subject within the School of Social Sciences, but would no longer exist as a named department.

Several reasons were given for this: (i) A decrease in undergraduate admissions; (ii) poor performance on REF2014; (iii) inadequate grant income, well below the sector benchmark.

At CDBU we appreciate that we can’t assume all departments will just continue in perpetuity, and vice-chancellors have to make decisions about the viability of particular disciplines. But we are concerned about the way this has been handled, which in many ways resembles the ‘restructuring’ exercise conducted at Kings College London last summer.

In particular we see:

  • An unexpected announcement of a ‘consultation’ on restructuring, in which staff are given exactly eleven days to respond. It has been pointed out to us that there seems to be a strategy of releasing such bad news on a Thursday or Friday, perhaps in the hope that affected people will recover their poise over the weekend.
  • A failure to specify how this will affect teaching of current students, who have mounted a petition in protest. It is noteworthy that politics at Surrey has had particularly high ratings of student satisfaction. One wonders how long these will persist, especially at a time when student fees are at an all-time high. The University has legal obligations to existing students, including for PhD supervision, and it is unclear how these can be met with such a cull of academic staff. Furthermore, by effectively crippling the Department, the reputation of the degrees, from Undergraduate to PhD, is severely compromised.
  • Using REF2014 performance as the benchmark against which staff are assessed, disregarding aspects of job performance which are not covered by this, such as the teaching activities that presumably contributed to the student ratings. Thus, as many feared, REF2014, whose validity is very far from perfect, is now being used as a tool by management to control staff.
  • Assessing staff on grant income. This is not sensible in any discipline but is particularly perverse in a discipline where it is possible to do excellent work without external funding. One has the impression that many universities are deciding to dispense with academics whose research does not require funding.

We hope that the University of Surrey will reconsider this action, which destroys any reputation they might have for being an institution that cares about its staff and students.