Scared staff at a controversial Welsh university have endorsed the decision at a nearby higher education institution to publish an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor complaining about their workload after the suicide of a lecturer, The Eye can reveal.
Hundreds of staff at Cardiff University signed the critical letter, and now colleagues at Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) have told us they support the decision to publicise their plight, after their own institution embarked on an ambitious plan to increase student numbers by 8,810 and a health survey was postponed.
One source, who was too frightened to be identified, told us earlier: “Staffing levels are completely inadequate.
“Sickness levels and grievances are through the roof across the university.”
Another contact within the university sector said to The Eye: “They are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”.
The disturbing news comes soon after the revelation that business tutor Malcolm Anderson at Cardiff was found dead outside his office.
The warning letter was published on social media after drafting by the Cardiff University branch of the University College Union (UCU), and has been signed by hundreds of worried staff.
It states: “We are acutely aware there are many others at serious risk of physical and mental injury.
“Simply, our workloads are too high across the board.”
Cardiff UCU spokesperson Dr Andy Williams said: “We’ve published this open letter because Cardiff University … staff survey shows that only half of all staff can do their jobs without regularly working unreasonable hours.
“The figures are even worse for staff who teach and do academic research, with only one in five not regularly doing unpaid overtime on weekends or in the evenings.
“All this has a real strain on our health.”
It was also the UCU which highlighted the alleged postponement of a staff health survey at CMU.
In a newsletter to members at CMU, union officials wrote ln June: “… your UCU Branch Committee is concerned at the rise in the number of members reporting stress-related illnesses this academic year and has issued advice concerning resources members can access to seek support at an early stage (see email from the UCU Branch Chair dated 9thMarch 2018).
“Such early support can often prevent matters worsening.
“Also in relation to this, UCU is very disappointed to learn that the annual staff health and wellbeing survey … has been postponed without any explanation until further notice”.
This news is set against a worrying backdrop.
Academics at CMU have described to us their fears about a drive to absorb thousands more students and turn it into a business.
Papers show that the university has set a target of gaining a level of 26,425 students by 2023, an increase of 8,810 on today’s figure of 17,615.
But one of our sources at CMU, who was also scared of retribution, told us: “The drive for more students is clearly laid out… the worrying thing for us is how the management see the university as a business”.
The other contact within the Welsh university sector said to The Eye: “The expansion is unrealistic in a massive demographic dip, and in an area where Cardiff and Swansea are already invested”.
Yet this is not the first time CMU has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons and the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Cara Aitchison has cut a controversial figure.
Her university has slumped 10 places in the Complete University Guide 2019 table to joint 77th, the only Welsh university to decline.
She was appointed 19 months ago from Plymouth Marjon University which came second from bottom in the entire sector.
Yet the university is upbeat, and officials have stated in an advert for a new chair of governors: “We are an award winning institution both internationally and in the UK and have a learning community totalling 17,000 students (10,000 based in Cardiff and 7,000 studying with collaborative partners), with an enviable reputation for employability and teaching excellence”.
But others at CMU say the university is less than excellent.
The internal source told us in the past: “It’s carnage and all this turmoil is going on whilst they expect to recruit a new chair of governors”.
Yet CMU officials have been positive about their expansion.
In October a spokesperson said: “The University has recruited considerably more students in 2017 than last year, and we have confidence growth in existing courses can be achieved.
“New courses have come on stream in 2017 achieving high levels of recruitment.”
But the chase for more students could be intensified as the latest figures show applications for universities in Wales falling.
They fell three per cent this year to the lowest level in a decade which was the second year in a row that there has been a drop in numbers putting greater pressure on universities who have already published their aim to increase the level of students.
The present crisis at CMU has obviously caused deep unhappiness among staff there who have contacted The Eye anonymously.
An academic staff member has told us previously: “We have no more students studying in Cardiff than we had last year.
“We are being pressed to recruit more students to shore up a deficit in this years applications and there have been a worrying number of dropouts on some courses.”
Clearly dropping out is not an option for staff; it seems they must write an open letter complaining about their workload.
Tomorrow – more exclusive revelations on The Eye of disturbing events at CMU where staff claim they are ‘under suspicion’ of being our source.