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‘Cultural and social vandalism’: job cut plans at Goldsmiths attacked

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Plans for mass redundancies at Goldsmiths, University of London, have been called a “horrifying act of cultural and social vandalism” and the “biggest assault on jobs at any UK university in recent years”.

The job cuts, which are now subject to a consultation, are the latest in a series of redundancies at Goldsmiths and elsewhere in the higher education sector, as universities struggle with financial pressures.

The number of Goldsmiths staff likely to be affected is disputed, with the University and College Union (UCU) warning that up to a quarter of all academic roles at the south London institution could be axed under a major new restructuring programme, while management said one in six academic roles could be made redundant.

The UCU says the scale, speed and intensity of the cuts at Goldsmiths are unprecedented, with entire modules and degree programmes being “deleted”, and cuts affecting 11 of the 19 departments due to be implemented by September 2024.

Departments affected include anthropology, English and creative writing, history, music, psychology, sociology, theatre and performance and visual cultures, with some losing half of their staff, according to the UCU.

Michael Rosen said it was ‘unbearable’ to think of the work Goldsmiths does being under threat. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

The union said the number of roles and full-time equivalents kept changing, but according to Goldsmiths 132 academic roles could be made redundant out of a total of 769, subject to consultation.

“You can imagine people are scared,” said Catherine Rottenberg, professor of media, communications and cultural studies, who is on the executive committee of Goldsmiths UCU. “These are people’s livelihoods, people’s families. It’s huge.”

Goldsmiths alumni include the film director Steve McQueen, the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, the writer Bernardine Evaristo, the poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, the musician Damon Albarn and the artist Antony Gormley.

The union is now balloting its members on industrial action to fight the cuts. A UCU statement said it was the second restructure at Goldsmiths in as many years, adding: “This is the biggest assault on jobs at any UK university in recent years.”

Michael Rosen, the broadcaster, former children’s poet laureate and professor of children’s literature, has worked at Goldsmiths for 10 years.

He said: “It’s been a great working environment and my department has reached out into the world of education, libraries, literature and scholarship.

“We’ve challenged ourselves to keep up to date with both tradition and the latest ideas circulating in these worlds and to share these with our students. These practices and traditions go back a long way at Goldsmiths and it’s unbearable to think that any of this is under threat from yet more mass redundancies.”

Angela McRobbie, the cultural theorist and emeritus professor at Goldsmiths, said: “Goldsmiths is unique. It’s an institution that has trained young people who go on to do socially and culturally valuable jobs across the world.

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“The possible redundancies on this scale is unprecedented and it is a terrible outcome in a national scenario that has pitched universities against each other.”

Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of postcolonial studies at the University of Cambridge, added: “The redundancies announced by Goldsmiths management is a horrifying act of cultural and social vandalism, one which will devastate the study and teaching of the humanities not just in this institution, but Britain more generally.”

Prof Frances Corner, warden of Goldsmiths, said management were having to make difficult decisions – like other universities – because of a funding model that is widely acknowledged to be unfit for purpose.

“We are fully committed to retaining the arts, humanities and social sciences as core elements of our educational offer,” she said.

“Our plan will secure a positive and progressive future for Goldsmiths and ensure that we continue to deliver a creative, collaborative and unique learning and working environment.”

This article was amended on 29 March 2024 because an earlier version incorrectly included Tracey Emin among alumni of Goldsmiths.

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