Arts and humanities given reprieve at King's, but strike may go ahead

Management softens stance on compulsory job cuts after widespread criticism. John Morgan writes

May 6, 2010

The management at King's College London appears to have abandoned plans for compulsory redundancies in a school where all academics were told they could lose their jobs - but strike action is set to escalate over further layoffs.

King's had outlined plans to cut 205 jobs across the college in a bid to save £ million over two years, a move it said was a response to government disinvestment in higher education.

Scholars around the world voiced condemnation when the college issued a consultation on the School of Arts and Humanities that said that "all academic roles ... will be declared at risk of redundancy", with staff judged on their "research fit and performance".

But during the consultation, which closed last week, the management appears to have retreated from its plan for 22 redundancies in the school.

A King's spokesman said: "Other plans have been put forward, and we certainly hope there will be no compulsory redundancies."

Jim Wolfreys, University and College Union branch president, said the changes had been won through "pressure from the union, but obviously from the wider community as well".

The consultation document said the "restructuring" in arts and humanities would "create financially viable academic activity by disinvesting from areas that are at sub-critical level with no realistic prospect of extra investment".

International scholars criticised the college's plans to end activity in computational linguistics and abolish the UK's only chair in palaeography. The college's two leading computational linguists will be among those saved if there are no redundancies, while a working party is examining the future of palaeography.

Staff in the school are waiting for official confirmation of the college's position.

It is thought that the management is pursuing voluntary severance packages with some academics.

UCU members want the management to commit to avoiding any compulsory redundancies across the college and to pause all consultations.

As Times Higher Education went to press, the union, which said it first made these requests in February, had scheduled a two-day strike for 5 and 6 May in a bid to increase the pressure on the management.

A public meeting, "Defending Education at King's", was held by campus unions and student campaigners last week.

One of the speakers, Ronan Bennett, a novelist and graduate of King's, criticised the "secretiveness, arrogance and incompetence of management".

On the wider campaign against higher education cuts, he said: "If this campaign is to work, it has to go outside universities."

Iain Pears, a novelist and journalist who has written about the King's cuts, said there were "key figures in the management structure at King's who really should consider whether they are suited to their roles in their administration".

He added: "Universities are not businesses. It is good that they are not, and it is time to say so more forcefully."

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