Visa for students row: Hundreds of jobs ‘at risk’ at London university as international student numbers fall

Hundreds of jobs are “at risk” at a London university as international student numbers fall, union leaders warned on Thursday.

The University and College Union (UCU) said 297 posts had been “put at risk” at South Bank University.

It claimed this included almost one in five, 226 out of 1082, academic staff.

The union said that university chiefs had blamed the proposed job cuts on a predicted £24 million deficit due to a fall in international students, static domestic student recruitment and rising pension costs.

It also claimed that the cost-cutting plans would mean the current eight academic schools being abolished and merged into just three “colleges”.

Performing arts, film, sport & exercise science, psychology, electrical & electronic engineering, and social sciences would all face severe cuts, it claimed.

More than 150 London South Bank University UCU members attended an emergency branch meeting on Wednesday and “overwhelmingly” passed a motion of no confidence in the vice-chancellor and senior management team.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The cuts that London South Bank University wants to force through would leave the institution a shell of its former self, you simply cannot slash this many jobs without completely hollowing out the university’s capacity to teach and support students.”

London South Bank University (LSBU), which has a sizeable number of students from less privileged backgrounds, said it was launching a consultation on two proposals around the “shape and size of its academic structure”.

It stressed that a changing student profile” meant that some areas had seen a decline in student numbers while others had grown and “required investment”.

In a statement, it added: “In recognition of these changes and the challenges currently facing the university sector, LSBU is proposing to reduce 55 full-time equivalent academic staff, and deans will also be reviewing the utilisation of hourly paid lecturer roles.

“In addition, a number of other school-associated roles (e.g. leadership and administration roles) will move back to their substantive academic roles, or in some cases be placed at risk due to our changes to university shape.

“Proposals to move from eight schools and 28 divisions to three colleges containing 12 schools will help improve collaboration, and take advantage of growth opportunities in teaching, research and innovation, while also reducing both management and support costs.”

Professor David Phoenix, vice-chancellor and chief executive at LSBU, said: “The university has informed unions about these proposals and has opened a formal consultation with staff on Wednesday 15 May.

“We know that this is difficult news for colleagues to digest and we are offering a range of support to help them through this period.”

He emphasised: “Our priority is to ensure a better balance of staff, based on student demand, and to ensure we have a structure that allows the university to provide an excellent student experience, meet the needs of the local community and employers, and positions us for future growth.”

London university chiefs have previously hit out against the Government’s schemes to cut international student numbers which threaten to damage the institutions’ finances.

Professor Brian Bell, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee which advises the Government, stressed just days ago that the recent ban on many overseas students bringing dependents appeared to be having a “very significant effect” on student numbers at some universities in Britain.

The MAG also warned that a wider axing of the graduate visa route for international students would have a limited effect on reducing net migration.

Recent immigration policy changes, such as the clampdown on many overseas students bringing dependents and the increase in the salary thresholds for the skilled worker route, will hit the number of overseas graduates who progress into the workforce, said the Government advisers.

About 70,000 international students who finished university in 2023 might have been expected to go into work routes but recent policy changes may reduce this number to around 26,000, the MAC has estimated.

Prof Bell stressed: “If that’s right, or even ballpark right, getting rid of the graduate route would have fairly small effects on net migration, because the effects of the student dependant change and skilled worker threshold would be much more important overall.

“I think most of the hard work has been done – by the student dependant changes and the skilled worker threshold – in terms of reducing the long-run net migration effect of the graduate route.”

After the ban on dependents for some foreign students, Prof Bell cautioned the Government against taking further action to reduce numbers until there was a “clearer picture” of the impact of the recent changes.

His comments come as the Government searches for measures to cut migration.

Last week, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick put forward a series of proposals to curb migration which included scrapping the graduate route.

But the MAC review into the graduate route on Tuesday, commissioned by the Government, concluded that the route should remain in its current form.

When Home Secretary James Cleverly asked the MAC to review the graduate route in March, he suggested the majority of international students who switched from the graduate route to a skilled-worker route went into care work.

The Cabinet minister said at the time this was “not what the Government intended”.

However, Prof Bell said that data provided by the Home Office, and presented in the commissioning letter from Mr Cleverly to the MAC, was “incorrect” and about 20 per cent went into care work.