'Draconian' measure: King's to cut 205 jobs

College cites government reductions and RAE results as reasons for purge. John Morgan writes

February 4, 2010

King's College London is planning to cut more than 200 jobs and has put an entire school on notice of redundancy - moves described as the "most draconian" response yet to funding fears.

King's, which is a member of the Russell Group of large research-intensive institutions, will cut 205 jobs across 13 departments, including 30 apiece in the School of Physical Sciences and Engineering and the Institute of Psychiatry.

Internal consultation documents cite financial deficits within departments, "poor" performance in the 2008 research assessment exercise and government funding cuts as reasons for the retrenchment.

A proposal on "restructuring" in the School of Arts and Humanities, where 22 jobs are at risk, tells staff that "all academic roles ... will be declared at risk of redundancy".

Selection of the redundancies "will be done through an assessment based on the performance of each role holder", it adds.

A group of 26 academics from nearby University College London have written to the head of the school, Jan Palmowski, warning that such a "savage reduction of staff numbers" would mean that the best candidates in the humanities will "shun the institution".

"The reorganisation will succeed in the aim of making a once great institution manifestly mediocre," they add.

Jim Wolfreys, University and College Union president at King's, said: "Of all the institutions involved in this crisis, King's has adopted the most draconian measures so far in terms of redundancies."

King's management has proposed turning the School of Physical Sciences and Engineering into a school of natural and mathematical sciences. This would mean that King's, which is thought to have established the world's first engineering school in 1838, would no longer teach the subject.

A consultation document notes the school's "poor performance" in the final RAE and adds of college policy: "Where there is no realistic ability to achieve top-quartile research performance, those activities will no longer be required in their current form."

Dr Wolfreys said that judging subjects "in terms of profitability" meant that the traditional values and functions of the university "are being destroyed".

In light of the cuts, he queried why King's went ahead with the £20 million purchase of the east wing of Somerset House in December 2009.

He also called for an end to the sector's piecemeal approach to fighting job cuts.

"The scale of all this demands a national response from the union," Dr Wolfreys said. "In the absence of that, institutions are fighting rearguard actions against cuts from within."

A King's spokesman said it "remains to be seen" whether there would be compulsory redundancies among the job losses.

Retrenchment continues at universities across the UK. Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, has proposed cutting between 20 and 99 jobs from a total of 500 staff.

And at Aston University, staff learnt by email on 25 January that its chief operating officer, Richard Middleton, would be leaving as part of plans aimed at "responding to sector financial challenges". The next day, they were told that estates director Garry East will also leave.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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