Goldsmiths University has been accused of planning to lay off hundreds of academic staff in anticipation of a higher education funding crisis caused by coronavirus.

An open letter addressed to university warden Frances Corner claims 472 staff members, predominantly on temporary contracts, are set to lose their jobs; a figure Goldsmiths disputes.

This follows an anonymous piece published in the Guardian, which claims the university is using the non-renewal of temporary contracts to cut costs while side-stepping legal difficulties, targeting precarious workers.

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The Guardian piece, written by a staff member, said: “Higher education is second only to hospitality as the most casualised sector of the UK economy, and a large and growing proportion of the university workforce is made up of lecturers and researchers on insecure and often poorly paid temporary contracts.

“In the challenging current circumstances, university senior management teams see us as low-hanging fruit: rather than effectively sack permanent academics and risk legal (as well as trade union) challenges, managers calculate that they can simply allow hundreds of temporary contracts to expire.

“This is precisely what is happening at Goldsmiths.”

The open letter, written by Emily Woolley, further argues that cuts to temporary staff will disproportionately impact black people and people of colour.

Universities are facing financial difficulty as it becomes increasingly unclear whether half a million international students, who pay significantly higher fees, will return to the UK.

Temporary staff are proposing that their contracts are extended to the autumn, when student numbers for the coming near will be known.

The University says extending contracts over the summer holidays, before student numbers and finances are known, would be "unprecedented."

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The ‘472 academic staff’ figure being quoted is deeply misleading.

"Our data shows 343 Associate Lecturers/Graduate Trainee Tutors will see their fixed term contracts expire before the end of October.

“Of these 88 have permanent status or another permanent role at Goldsmiths leaving 255 teaching staff whose fixed term role will expire in line with their signed/agreed contract.

“It is normal for contracts to end in this way and it would be extraordinary and unprecedented for us to look to extending them over the student summer holidays when the vast majority of these teaching staff would not normally be employed by us.

“In September, when we have a better idea of the impact of Covid-19 on student numbers and our finances, we will review which contracts need renewing to teach the students on our courses.

“Our data shows that of all our Associate Lecturers/Graduate Trainee Tutors 22% identify as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) while 54% identify as female.

“Of all our academic and non-academic staff on fixed term contracts 31% identify as BAME while 59% identify as female.”