Institutions draw up plans for closures and job losses

Reading's School of Health and Social Care under threat as sector cuts costs, writes Melanie Newman

February 19, 2009

Cuts and closures are being planned across the sector as universities respond to the worsening economic climate.

Jobs are being axed at both the University for the Creative Arts and the University of Cumbria, while the University of Reading is considering closing its School of Health and Social Care.

The University for the Creative Arts, which was created in 2005 by the merger of the Kent and Surrey institutes of art and design and gained university status last September, plans to make 80 people redundant. A spokeswoman said that a staffing review had identified the posts that would go, but added that more than 60 new roles were being created.

"We're consulting with the unions to discuss ways of minimising compulsory redundancies," she said.

In a memo to staff last week, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cumbria revealed plans to cut wage costs by £2.56 million in 2009-10.

Christopher Carr said that this would be achieved through recruitment freezes, natural wastage and voluntary-severance schemes.

Cumbria's business plan, which was approved in 2007, set out plans to cut staff costs from 69 per cent of total income to 63 per cent by 2010-11. Since then, Professor Carr said, "the world in which we have to operate has changed dramatically".

The university's trading deficit was £5.5 million in 2007-08, much higher than the £4 million originally predicted, he said. The credit crunch and last year's 8 per cent pay rise for academics had compounded problems arising from lower than projected student numbers in 2008, he added.

Meanwhile, Reading's senior management board recommended that its School of Health and Social Care be closed with effect from 30 September 2011.

An internal review concluded that the strategic importance of the school was limited, that it had failed to obtain Strategic Health Authority contracts and lacked the critical mass of expertise in social work to achieve excellent research.

The recommendation will be discussed next month by Reading's senate and council, when a final decision will be made.

Barbara Richards, director of the school's counselling courses, said: "There is never a shortage of applicants and recruits to the counselling programmes. We've a stable intake and are always oversubscribed. The courses never operate at a loss."

The University and College Union described the proposals as "pointless and ill thought out ... With an estimated one in six social-work positions in the UK unfilled, the UCU fails to comprehend why the institution is considering axeing a department that is not losing money and achieved a higher score in the recent research assessment exercise than its local competitors."

A university spokeswoman said: "The problem is that we are simply not funded for all that we do. The university council will not allow (Reading) to plan for sustained budgetary deficits. Therefore we are faced with difficult decisions."

Meanwhile the University of Westminster has announced plans to close its ceramics course, one of the country's oldest.

The university is still consulting on the closure of the BA ceramics course, but student recruitment will end after the next intake.

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