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Insider lifts lid on ‘years of blunders’ that sparked Aberdeen University redundancies timebomb

The crestfallen whistleblower asks "why on earth would you want to study here?"

An Aberdeen University whistleblower says years of bad decisions have left jobs now at risk. Image: DC Thomson
An Aberdeen University whistleblower says years of bad decisions have left jobs now at risk. Image: DC Thomson

A whistleblower has lifted the lid on years of alleged mistakes that have now left dozens of Aberdeen University staff fearing for their jobs.

The anonymous insider is understood to be a senior lecturer and member of the governing senate body.

They are speaking out as a savings drive leaves dozens of employees across various departments at risk of redundancy.

The Aberdeen University campus has been rocked by redundancy fears. Image: DC Thomson

In a damning confessional penned to student newspaper The Gaudie, they revealed how things got so bad for the ancient institution.

The insider claims:

  • Chiefs “put all their eggs in one basket” by doggedly pursuing international students despite warnings about this risky approach going back six years
  •  Staff were lulled into a false sense of security about redundancies, just weeks before dozens learned they faced the chop
  • And did the university sleepwalk into disaster by “standing still while the world moved around us”?

Aberdeen University whistleblower says threat came out of the blue

The recent ructions at Aberdeen University began with a grim warning about the need to save money in September.

It came after the pandemic, Brexit and government settlements hit the institution.

At that time Principal George Boyne said he had a “strong preference” to avoid losing any members of staff.

George Boyne at Aberdeen University. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

The insider says this comment came as “a jolt”, sending a ripple through a workforce who “hadn’t thought this was being considered”.

They add: “But we were still unconcerned. He had just given a commitment that this wasn’t in his plan.”

Weeks later, panic set in when bosses confirmed that, in fact, “cuts were required, degree programmes would be closed and staff were at threat of redundancy”…

When did department heads learn they would have to make cuts?

The insider goes on: “The university community reacted in shock.

“The financial circumstances of the institution had not been considered so severe.”

It’s claimed that senior academics with “directly impacted” departments only found out “immediately prior to the meeting”.

Prof Boyne presiding over graduations. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Uncertainty still hangs over dozens of educators in the language department, with a consultation over its future ongoing.

Revealed: More jobs at risk as fresh meetings called this week

And they reveal how things have got worse in the last few days.

The outpouring continues: “When meetings were called across the university this week by Heads of School, it should have been no surprise to anyone that the news was not good.

“We don’t have meetings to celebrate success – we’re called to meet when the situation is dire.”

According to the insider, the geosciences department has been ordered to trim a third of its staff by next summer.

They add: “Shocking, but not surprising.

“Other schools are meeting across the week, but the messages will be similar.

“Voluntary redundancies are open.  Protected conversations are suggested.  Those over 55 years old are encouraged to think about early retirement.”

How did it come to this?

One big question hangs over the troubled Old Aberdeen campus – why does all this need to happen?

The insider argues that it’s a predicament that has crept up on bosses due to their single-minded fixation on enticing international students.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman last month announced a crackdown on visas being issued for the families of international students. The Home Office highlighted it when asked for comment on the troubled Aberdeen school rolls. Image: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Suella Braverman announced a crackdown on visas being issued for the families of international students, which has put many off studying in the UK. Image: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

In 2018, we reported how campus chiefs were pinning their hopes on international students to help pay for badly needed repairs across the university’s estate.

Non-EU students pay “premium” tuition fees worth more than double of students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

They explain: “It’s hard not to be angry about all of this. Yes, university funding is a mess right now.

“But all of this could have been survived had we not put all of our eggs into the basket of ‘international postgraduate students’.

“The hostile environment created by Brexit and aided and abetted by a succession of anti-immigrant Home Secretaries has made the UK an unattractive place to live and study.

“So those eggs are broken. And the frustrating thing is that this was so foreseeable.”

Kings College flying the EU flag in 2019 as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with its European students and staff while the UK Parliament debated the next steps for Brexit. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

What should have happened to prevent catastrophe?

The Aberdeen University whistleblower says concerns had been growing for years about this risky approach.

They continue: “Social scientists – indeed, the average watcher of BBC Question Time – would be able to tell you the window for encouraging international students was closing.  And yet this was our sole strategy.

“In 2018, the University Court recommended that we should not focus solely on this potentially volatile funding stream.

“This recommendation was rejected. We didn’t diversify. We didn’t look to other funding sources.

“We stood still while the world moved around us. And that has cost us dearly.”

Do you think the university should have acted differently? Let us know in our comments section below

Aberdeen University whistleblower asks ‘why would you want to study here?’

The damning indictment lambasts top brass for “shifting the focus” to the individual schools within the university, who have been “encouraged to follow management’s flawed strategy of targeting international students”.

The message concludes: “New programmes were geared towards that market.  New staff were employed to teach dwindling numbers of students.

“And when the house of cards crashed down, when the eggs in the basket were all broken, when the s*** hit the fan, management didn’t take responsibility.”

The anonymous insider warns that things might “get worse before they get better”.

They say: “Against a backdrop of catastrophic financial mismanagement, why on earth would you want to study here?”

A spokeswoman for Aberdeen University stressed the “significant financial challenges” responsible for the jobs threat.

She said: “This is a difficult time for colleagues across our community and we understand the frustration that is felt by some.

“Universities across the UK are facing significant financial challenges because of changes to immigration policy, a steep drop in international student numbers and a decline in public funding.

“This means that we have to make difficult decisions.”

You can read the entire statement on The Gaudie’s website here.

Read more about how international students bringing their families to Aberdeen has caused school rolls to bulge. 

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