Staff at Kingston University (KU) have spoken out against the threat of job losses amid plans for sweeping changes to the provision of some arts and humanities courses at the university.

KU announced earlier this year that it was suspending the recruitment of new undergraduates to its Politics course for the coming academic year starting September 2021, citing falling recruitment numbers signing up to the course.

Staff represented by the UCU academic workers union said they have since been told by the university that wider changes it was looking to implement could potentially lead to upcoming job losses.

Specifically, staff said KU were considering "course closures and job losses" that could potentially impact up to 50 members of staff at the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences (Politics Department) and Kingston School of Art (Film Cultures, Media and Communication and History).

Speaking anonymously to the Surrey Comet, one staff member represented by UCU said they were"horrified" and "being forced into voluntary redundancy" while another decried the potential job losses and described the impact the news was having on staff:

"Staff were devastated. We were advised that all members are at potentially at risk of redundancy, but were not and have been yet to be told what degree of cuts to staff are being considered, or what this implies for the students and staff who remain.

"The university insists that we are in a period of consultation, but on basis of the thinnest definition of the word," they said.

UCU members from the KU staff who spoke with the Surrey Comet said they put in a "herculean effort to turn around the negative situation their managers put them in" and improve the viability of humanities and arts courses now under scrutiny.

Another KU staff member meanwhile described the approach of KU management to the current situation as "One of neglect and indifference" and added:

"There was no recognition of the year we have had, or how dedicated and hard-working staff have proven over the past year. There has been no support of all our efforts to strengthen the department.

"There have been a cascade of management decisions over the past few years that had a direct role in the decline of student numbers and no-one has taken responsibility for them.

"This is not how you expect an employer to behave."

The situation faced by UCU-represented staff members at KU falls amid a backdrop of funding cuts from central government to humanities, social sciences and arts courses at universities in the country.

As the Guardian reported earlier this month, a consultation by the Office for Students (OfS) and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested halving the amount spent on "high cost" higher education arts subjects in England, arguing that they were not "strategic priorities".

A UCU-represented staff member at KU described their view of the landscape in that regard.

They described the "threatening" of critical thinking subjects like politics and history as a "worrying" trend that could see those subjects return to the preserve of elites in society as was previously the case.

"What is happening at Kingston fits a broader pattern, where critical humanities, arts and social sciences are being threatened, which is worrying for our students and our democracy," they said.

"It’s a reversion back to a time when only people from elite backgrounds were trusted with the writing of history, the production of culture, political decision making and representation."

KU for its part insists that the consultation process has given the university the chance to consider the "needs of... students and employers" and their "aim to build a sustainable and sought-after academic portfolio".

A campaign led by UCU-affiliated staff and KU students is now underway to challenge any potential job losses and defend the continuation of courses that might face cuts.

Responding to a request from the Surrey Comet, a spokesperson for KU offered the following statement addressing the various complaints raised by staff represented by the UCU:

"Kingston University continually reviews its course portfolio to reflect the changing needs of students and employers.

"We have recently been consulting staff and trade union representatives about the future shape of our provision in politics, history, film cultures and media and communication.

"The University has been carrying out a review of wider plans for the politics department, in consultation with staff, students and trade union representatives, over the past few months (and) has also been reviewing its offering in film cultures and media and communication as part of a realignment of its current structure so it can boost opportunities for collaboration across courses.

"A decision has since been taken to suspend undergraduate student recruitment for 2021-22 to two of these courses – film cultures, and drama and film cultures – following low recruitment to these pathways.

"We are continuing to recruit to other courses introduced in these areas that have seen greater demand from prospective students.

"We are currently in the process of collating and considering feedback from our staff and student community and trade union representatives as our periods of consultation continue.

"No decisions have yet been taken. We remain committed to minimising any risk of potential redundancy by redeploying staff wherever possible."