Edinburgh University staff forced to turn to hardship fund

Lecturers, visiting scholars and tutors in the Capital left unable to heat their houses and pay their rent

The University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dozens of academic staff at Edinburgh University have been forced to rely on cash handouts from their union to pay rent, with staff warning that numbers are set to rise in the coming months.

The trade union for academic staff in the Capital, UCU Edinburgh, has provided thousands of pounds to university employees struggling to keep up with energy bills and food costs as the pandemic continues.

Hide Ad

The bursaries are open to any university staff member working in the Capital and can be used to cover rent, pay bills and buy medical supplies or food.

A member of the union who is distributing these funds says the team have had almost 22 individual requests from teaching staff and have given out over £3000 since the scheme began.

He said: “Many people have been scraping by on precarious income for some time now and Covid-19 has pushed them into serious financial difficulty.

“Lots of our applicants have been single parents, international students relying on family support, or postgraduate students with disabilities, and their current conditions are frankly unlivable.”

Hide Ad

Lecturers, visiting scholars and tutors have all applied for this hardship fund with help paying rent being the most common request.

Others have asked for support for added medical costs, paying electricity bills and buying food for their household.

Hide Ad

The union expects a sharp rise in applications to the hardship fund in the upcoming months as the pandemic continues.

The teaching fellow, who asked not to be named, said: “We’ve been able to give financial support to 22 casualised workers so far, though we’re expecting a sharp rise as postgraduate and hourly paid staff face losing work or other pressures this semester.”

Hide Ad

While “utterly shocked” by how bad the situation has become, staff have said the lack of help offered “fits in” with the university’s attitude to its staff in recent years.

A tutor working at the institution said that the university functions on a system of paying those at the top huge salaries while other members of staff receive the bare minimum and struggle to survive.

Hide Ad

He said: “The fact the hardship fund is needed is both utterly shocking and also entirely in keeping with the university’s ethos.

“It’s a choice on behalf of senior management to pay staff unequally and inadequately, rather than a lack of resources.

Hide Ad

“Edinburgh University has both the highest number of staff on salaries above £100,000 in Scotland and the highest number of casualised staff, as many as two-thirds of all staff in the University.

“I think that tells you something about how the university operates, extracting profit from students through tuition and housing developments while showing little care for their welfare, education, or future prospects.”

Hide Ad

A postdoctoral teaching fellow at the university said that the fact that the hardship fund is needed is “outrageous” and an institution with “so much money” should not have to rely on charitable handouts to top up staff income.

He said: “It’s outrageous that the hardship fund is needed, it shouldn’t be necessary, the university is one of the wealthiest institutions in the country which is reflected in the Chancellors pay yet it still seems unable to pay the vast majority of its staff a fair wage.

Hide Ad

“I have had to put buying a house and settling down on hold to pursue a career in academics and now, with the pandemic magnifying the financial issues at the university, we have staff members who contribute great work to the university unable to pay their rent.”

However, a spokesperson from the university denies allegations of mismanagement and insists that it is an “extremely responsible employer.”

Hide Ad

The spokesperson said: “The University is an extremely responsible employer, demonstrated by the steps that we swiftly took to ensure that staff on guaranteed hours did not face a sudden unexpected drop in income.

“We also topped up the salaries of any staff who had to be furloughed, so rather than receive 80 per cent of their salaries - as they would under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - they have been paid 100 per cent of their salary while on furlough.”

Hide Ad

In response, a member of the teaching facility said that while staff with guaranteed hours were protected the majority of staff suffered as they were put on temporary and fixed-term contracts.

They said: “The majority of the teaching staff at the university are at best on a fixed-term or temporary contract with most employed on a casual basis having their house taken away from them and are now simply trying to survive.”

Hide Ad

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

Hide Ad

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to the Edinburgh Evening News online and enjoy unlimited access to trusted, fact-checked news and sport from Edinburgh and the Lothians. Visit https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.

Hide Ad

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Hide Ad

Editorial Director