The redundancies currently taking place at the University of Warwick represent a revolution in the meaning and purpose of academic work.
Senior staff in departments that are deemed loss-making (the medical school and life sciences) are judged on a single metric: external research grants awarded to them over the past four years. With a few exceptions, every associate professor or professor whose success in raising research grants is less than an average of £90,000 (£75,000 in life sciences) per year faces being dismissed unless they can argue a special case in mitigation. The most remarkable feature of the process is that research success is not acceptable as an argument. You can be publishing regularly at the highest standard of excellence, you can have been entered for the research excellence framework as a 4* researcher, but if you have not got external research contracts you are disposable.
This is a reversal of the usual logic, which is that a research investigation requires resources and these can be purchased out of a grant: the grant is a means to an end. The quality of the research project is judged by its output in publications and the size of the grant is incidental. Some research does not require grant funding at all but can be excellent nonetheless. Different specialisms require different amounts of funding; but the fact that this is central to the argument, as the medical school is multidisciplinary, with researchers in social science as well as laboratory science, is ignored.
As a metric, grant income is at best a measure of activity, and is an input not an output. In the Warwick process that simple truth has gone out of the window. Grant income is regarded simply as money to help plug the gap in the budget – that the cash can be spent only on research resources linked to the particular project is ignored. The staff being targeted, who would once have been tenured academics, are on what are now called indefinite contracts and find themselves in a similar position to market traders whose success is judged by the amount of money they can make in a given period. Yet although their tenure may be just as insecure, this risk is not compensated with comparable pay, or (in the future) secure Universities Superannuation Scheme pensions.
Under these conditions many bright graduate students will avoid an academic career. The long-term consequence of this replacement of reasoned argument with half-baked financial short-termism will be that British universities will become intellectually mediocre.
President, Warwick UCU