European universities cut jobs in the face of inflation

Record inflation of 10% is squeezing university budgets across the euro zone, with public universities in Central Europe already losing staff as a result.

In Slovakia, the government has agreed a €17m (£14.6m) top-up to 2022 budgets to cover soaring energy costs, but universities are still debating internally whether to also close a month earlier in mid-November to reduce winter fuel bills. , said a spokeswoman for the Slovak Rectors’ Conference (SRK).

The SRK wants universities to get a budget of 72 million euros for 2023 “without conditions”, responding to a government offer of just 27 million euros, with a cut of 2,000 university jobs – 10% of the national total. The SRK said the proposed decimation of staff was “absolutely unacceptable and unrealistic to implement” and that rectors were “prepared for all forms of protest”.

Radomír Masaryk, vice-rector for external relations at Comenius University in Bratislava, said Times Higher Education that the methodology of the Ministry of Finance to arrive at the 2,000 layoffs was “fuzzy”. However, he said the national goal could be met “naturally”: through retirements and layoffs linked to a recent accreditation round, which closed several programs.

Professor Masaryk said rising costs and recent cuts had so far hit arts and humanities staff the hardest, with the Comenius Faculty of Philosophy losing 25 staff to layoffs in the during the academic year 2021-22. He said the recent cuts “would have hurt even if it weren’t for all these other developments, but because of them they hurt us much more”.

In Austria, the “crisis talks” between the parliament, the ministry and the rectors’ conference (Uniko) ended without agreement on the planned budget deficits, which would be mainly due to the effect of inflation on the expenditure of staff, about two-thirds of the total across the sector.

“It has gone from a march to galloping inflation and the budgetary situation of the universities still remains approximately the same,” said Uniko vice-president and rector of the University of Klagenfurt, Oliver Vitouch, referring to the 2022-24 institutional budgets which were set with the ministry in mid-October 2020.

He said the national university budget deficit had risen to €1.2 billion and that a top-up of €500 million agreed with the government earlier this year would not even cover the projected inflation deficit. salaries over 2022-24 – around €509 million.

In a statement after the talks, Uniko said the government had decided to wait until a national agreement on university salaries was reached, likely in January, before deciding on the additional funding requested. In the meantime, the University of Vienna has frozen recruitment, including the renewal of contracts for temporary researchers.

“We are not cutting any positions; we just don’t replace people who retire, who leave, for whatever reason,” said University of Vienna rector Sebastian Schütze. “There will certainly be several hundred positions affected in there, we are talking about several million euros,” he added, referring to the temporary freeze until February.

Professor Schütze said redundancies that affected research or teaching capacity were a “red line” he would not cross, also ruling out the use of institutional reserves to cover staff cost inflation.

The University of Innsbruck does not plan to freeze recruitment, but rector Tilmann Märk has said he will limit it to what is strictly necessary. “We will review each of these positions and determine if they are necessary for teaching and research. There are people who are completely needed, and then there are wishes and good ones to be had,” he said.

Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger, rector of Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), said the recruitment freeze would be “drops on a hot stone”, making little difference to sustainability at medium term of his small university.

The eyes of Austrian academics are now on the upcoming public sector pay negotiations, which will set expectations for pay increases for subsequent discussions with academic staff. Professor Schütze from Vienna said that every 1 percentage point increase in salaries would cost his university more than 4 million euros a year. Professor Hanappi-Egger said the same increase would cost WU around €1 million.

ben.upton@timeshighereducation.com

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