Exeter's largesse is cold comfort for some

May 6, 2005

Senior academics hit by department closures at Exeter University have won record redundancy payments, but some warn that younger academics are losing out.

Exeter broke the news to staff at the end of last year that it would axe chemistry and music in 2005, and that lifelong learning, engineering, computer science, pure mathematics and statistics and operational research would also suffer job losses and "disinvestment".

The university confirmed this week that it had agreed a maximum payout of 18 months' full pay for long-serving staff - well above the legal requirement.

Payments for the 148 staff members who have agreed to go will be applied on a sliding scale based on age and experience, starting at a minimum of 30 weeks' pay.

Steve Smith, Exeter's vice-chancellor, said: "It's very generous when you consider what we'd have to do under statutory norms."

Under the agreement, an academic in his or her late fifties who has worked at the university for 20 years will be entitled to the maximum lump sum of one and a half years' salary.

But Professor Smith admitted that many younger academics would be less fortunate.

He said: "It is tricky, which is why we have set a 30-week minimum."

But he added: "If you are 28 years old with three years' service, legally you are entitled to £810. But we will give you 30 weeks' salary. And if you have been in the post for under two years - which two of our chemists had -technically you get nothing. We give them 30 weeks."

Duncan Bruce, head of Exeter's chemistry department, said that the redundancy packages had done little to lift morale among staff.

He said: "The problem in our department is that most people are young and are probably on the minimum of 30 weeks."

He added that money was not the key issue: "Across the university people have been very angry and upset about losing their jobs."

Up to three chemists plan to abandon higher education in favour of secondary school teaching, which they regard as more secure.

A spokesperson for the Association of University Teachers said that some academics had got "a very good deal".

But he added: "Some of our members are on fixed-term contracts and they have been excluded from the deal and won't get any payout. We are currently considering whether there is a case for legal action on behalf of these people."

A group of angry parents and secondary school teachers who had been planning to take Exeter to court for breaching their contract to students have now dropped their case.

Almost all students have accepted payments of between £2,000 and Pounds 3,500 to transfer to a different course or university.

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