By Owen Sheppard, local democracy reporter
Scores of boffins who advise the government in how to tackle the pandemic look set to lose their jobs.
Leading COVID-19 response scientists at Imperial College London have spoken out against the university’s plan to make 75 of its ICT staff redundant.
More than 150 ICT support staff at the prestigious West London university have been told their jobs are at risk, and that half of those roles will be axed.
The University and Colleges Union (UCU) said the redundancies have been planned since before the pandemic arrived.
Imperial’s scientists took a leading role in advising the Government on how the pandemic would affect the country. Many of them continue to work from home, which has seen demand for ICT assistance go up.
Prof Neil Ferguson, Imperial’s head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, resigned as a government advisor on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) after admitting to “undermining” the government’s messages on social distancing by meeting up with a married woman.
COVID-19 Response Team member, Dr Samir Bhatt, is currently advising the state of New York as it comes out of lockdown.
Dr Bhatt said: “For weeks now, all of our COVID-19 response work has had to be done remotely.
“It goes without saying that our work is of significant public health importance, both within the UK and around the world, and it would have been impossible without the Imperial ICT staff and their heroic efforts in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.”
Another member of the team, Dr Seth Flaxman, senior lecturer in statistical machine learning and senior author of multiple reports into the pandemic, said: “My team has published a major paper in Nature quantifying lives saved by lockdown, for which we relied heavily on specialised computing services supported by Imperial’s ICT staff.”
UCU says Imperial chiefs hope the redundancy process will take eight months and save £2 million a year.
A spokesperson for Imperial College London said: “We are reforming our Informati-on Technology Services to provide the best support for our world class research and education.
“Our COVID-19 Response Team will continue to receive first-rate ICT support. We are simplifying some processes and adopting a structure that makes it easier for us to respond quickly to the changing needs of our researchers and students. This project predates the pandemic, but the urgent need to support remote working, teaching and learning made these changes even more important.
“We are consulting with and supporting our staff who are affected by these changes.”
The university was asked whether the redundancy plan was incentivised by a potential drop in the number of international students who would enrol for September due to the coronavirus pandemic. The spokesperson did not respond to this point.
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