Job axe threat vexes unions

May 30, 1997

Students have joined academics in their fight against cuts and job losses

Union leaders have condemned proposals to axe over 100 jobs at the University of Exeter, claiming the move will fail to achieve the objective of boosting research quality.

Members of the Association of University Teachers are considering strike action or boycotting examinations. They are protesting at a restructuring plan drawn up by Exeter's Academic Policy Committee following disappointing research assessment exercise results and a Pounds 2.4-million budget shortfall which has doubled expected losses.

The plan would rationalise 32 departments and 20 centres into 16 schools, leading to around 117 job losses along with the creation of about 40 new posts.

Hardest hit will be the school of education, which is to withdraw from undergraduate courses in secondary education, and the school of Arabic and Middle East studies, which may close. But nearly all departments will face at least one job loss.

A staff consultation paper says the changes are needed following "substantial underperformance" in the 1996 RAE and Pounds 2.4 million cuts imposed by the Teacher Training Agency as part of its national exercise to even out the cost of teacher training.

"It is important to stress that the committee's deliberations and conclusions were led primarily by the need to position the university for academic success in the longer term, through enhanced performance in teaching and research, and not just by the need to reduce expenditure in the short to medium term," says a letter issued with the paper.

The paper suggests some compulsory redundancies may be needed, but Sir Geoffrey Holland, Exeter's vice chancellor, has stressed that this would be avoided if at all possible.

"The immediate reaction has been one of anxiety and anger. But I have told the AUT that we will approach this by all possible means to make changes voluntarily and through relocation and retraining where possible," he said.

Chris Taylor, the AUT's school of education representative at Exeter, said: "We accept that action needs to be taken but we want to ensure that there are no compulsory job losses and no undue pressure on staff to take early retirement."

Ben Mestel, joint AUT vice president at Exeter, said: " Teaching still has to be done even if you get rid of lecturers and bring in more researchers. It is a recipe for disaster in terms of the objectives the plan has set itself."

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