They say that recessions take about a year to be felt in the public sector. If this is true, then the year ahead is going to be a tough one for higher education institutions. Budget restrictions, cost cuts and employee strategies, such as flexible working patterns and voluntary or compulsory redundancies, have already been announced by several UK universities as measures to balance their books.
Who is affected the most?
It is no secret that inflated staff-related costs are more associated with the academic rather than with the non-academic staff. Yet, academics are there to serve the principal purpose of every university, which is to educate students. They are in charge of a university’s core business, which is teaching and research. Therefore, when redundancies become a necessary measure, it is the non-academic staff who are unfortunately the most vulnerable. That said, academics unfortunately can and do occasionally lose their jobs too, such as when universities decide to remove their modules from the timetables. However, mass redundancies of academic staff, especially of those in permanent positions, are rather unrealistic.
Why are non-academics in more trouble?
The answer is quite simple. While all those specialized modules need somebody with relevant expertise to teach them, it is assumed that, for example, one administrative assistant can carry out the work of two if necessary, or one finance officer can complement the role of another colleague. The demand for specialization is much lower in non-academic personnel. This makes them an easier target when job cuts are considered, simply because they are seen as easier to replace.
So is it all doom and gloom?
I don’t believe so. The purpose of this post is not to add to the general uncertainty of the times, but to analyze a situation that may seem incomprehensible and even unfair to some. Even more importantly, the aim is to offer some suggestions on how non-academic staff can try to “recession-proof” their career. So read part II for hints and tips on how to stay employable.