Managers at Aberdeen University may resort to compulsory redundancies in a bid to shed about 80 posts because they have given staff too little time to go voluntarily, union leaders fear.
The university wants to axe the posts as part of restructuring plans. The voluntary scheme was launched on June 1 and staff have just over two months, until July 31, to volunteer themselves for redundancy.
Unions fear this is too little time and that insufficient numbers will apply for the voluntary scheme to meet the jobs target, prompting managers to consider compulsory redundancy as a next step.
Deborah Shepherd, regional support officer for the Association of University Teachers Scotland, said: "We have told the management that we believe that is a very optimistic timescale. We have a strict policy of opposing compulsory redundancies. But if the management continues to consult with us properly, then we have ways of avoiding compulsory redundancies."
Fiona Farmer, regional officer for Amicus, which represents technicians and IT staff at Aberdeen, said: "We are concerned about the speed of things.
When the voluntary deadline is passed and the university has come close to its proposed redundancy figure, then we will argue for an extension."
Managers say the jobs must go as part of a long-term strategy in which the university will focus more resources on courses and subjects where student recruitment is healthy and which score well in the research assessment exercise.
The Times Higher has been briefed on details of the draft restructuring plan. It is still to be approved by the university court.
Areas to benefit in the restructuring are likely to include French, divinity and law in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. Each of these scored 5 in the 2001 RAE and managers want to raise them to 5* in the 2008 exercise.
In the College of Physical Sciences, the university also wants to maintain and raise research performance in pure maths, computing science, engineering and the geo-sciences.
Further development and strengthening of performance in the College of Life Sciences and Medicine are also priorities.
By contrast, the agriculture department looks like it will take the biggest hit. It scored a 3a in the last RAE, which means that it gets no money from the funding council. On top of this, student numbers have dropped by half over the past four years. Managers have indicated that its longer term future is uncertain.
Significant restructuring is also likely to affect history of art, where student demand is insufficient to justify staff numbers. Land management is also earmarked for a shake-up, with staff redeployed to other departments to strengthen their teaching and research profiles.
Stephen Logan, the university's provost and senior vice-principal elect, said: "This is not a cull of departments but a normal process of restructuring. Certain subjects will not be offered in the way they are now.
"The redundancies will allow us the freedom to redistribute resources into areas we wish to support. This is a voluntary scheme at present. We will wait until July 31 and then review our options."