Students and staff suffer as Osborne gets into bed with Manchester uni

The University of Manchester (UoM) plans to cut 171 jobs, including those of 140 academic staff (leaving up to 1000 staff uncertain about their future) and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) plans the closure of their Crew Campus (leading to a further 160 job losses).

The staff cuts will affect the faculties of arts, biology, medicine, and business. When defending these cuts, the university blames Brexit and the higher education bill. The university’s attempt to excuse these decisions on the basis of “Brexit” is as vague as it is nonsensical. The university have failed to spell out what link Brexit has to cutting university staff. On the contrary, if the university is fearful of the instability caused by Brexit, perhaps it would be more logical to retain staff and maintain the university’s reputation as a teaching and research institution rather than getting rid of them. The higher education bill was passed in April 2017 and effectively furthers the marketisation of higher education. The university claims to be investing in “strategic priorities”. Presumably by strategic priorities the university means new and expensive halls of residence alongside a four-star hotel for the business school (both of which are funded by the university). Presumably this would also mean that retaining staff to improve the university’s research and the education of students is not a so called “strategic priority”.

Whilst plans for these cuts are ongoing, it has been announced that former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne is to become an honorary professor at UoM, an appointment that UoM Vice Chancellor, Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell, applauded as “exciting news” for the university. Given that as Vice Chancellor she is personally overseeing these job cuts at the university, it is doubtful that staff and students see Osborne’s new role as anything to get excited about; it can be seen only as an insult to staff and students alike. Moreover, if it were “exciting news” it seems strange to have announced it after most undergraduates have finished their exams and gone home for summer. It is likely that the administration knew full well there would be a backlash from students over this ridiculous decision and so announced it when few students would be around in a cynical attempt to avoid such a backlash. As chancellor, Osborne made sure students at UoM – and at many other universities – pay £9000 a year for their education and graduate with an average of over £40,000 worth of debt. Whilst doing this, he oversaw cuts to corporation tax and income tax for high earners. Osborne does not have an A level in economics, let alone a degree, and yet is being appointed economics lecturer. Osborne also recently made over £300,000 in one month making speeches to rich capitalists.

The university, with these decisions about cuts, have made it crystal clear that its priorities are the same as George Osborne’s: increasing profits, not the welfare of students and staff.

The University and College Union (UCU) point out in a statement that the university is in good financial health and the university was making excuses for the cuts. Financial data showed that the university recorded a £59.7m surplus for the year in 2015-16, whilst a financial statement disclosed that UoM had reserves of almost £1.5bn. It seems then that the university is taking this decision in order to cut costs in the short term and, as UCU’s statement goes on to argue, jeopardise the long term ability of the university to be a provider of high quality education. This short term decision making is typical in the current capitalist system as businesses place short term profits above all else in order to please shareholders, but this is also symptomatic of a capitalist system in a period of general crisis and terminal decline, where “efficiency savings” – i.e. austerity – for short term gain has proven after 7 years to be a total failure and still the capitalists offer no alternative out of this impasse.

In response to these attacks on higher education institutions, UCU have successfully balloted for a two day strike action at Manchester Metropolitan University – which was delayed after the Manchester arena attacks – and has also balloted for strike action at UoM, receiving 90% support. The UCU is right to do this in order to fight against job cuts and the broader marketisation of education. Only by achieving a system of education that is democratic and accountable, and which values students and staff above profits, can we build successful universities that educate and expand the minds of young people. We cannot do this by cutting university staff in order to pay for hotels and offering honorary professorships to Tories. The hypocrisy of the university system is evident in Manchester. Demand free education, demand an end to marketised education, and demand socialism to provide this for all.

Manchester Marxists demand that the honorary professorship given to George Osborne be immediately retracted whilst we support and sends solidarity to the UCU in their attempts to stop job losses. We also second this open letter from UoM alumnus Elizabeth Harper.