Job cuts may stretch services to City limit

UCU fears more support staff will be forced out to cover REF recruitment costs

December 19, 2013

Source: Alamy

Walking away: 15 administrative staff have agreed to voluntary redundancy as part of City University’s restructuring plan

Teaching and student services may suffer at City University London if more administrative posts are cut to help fund the institution’s recruitment drive for this year’s research excellence framework, a union has warned.

City’s operating deficit rose to £16.2 million in 2012-13, up from £1 million the year before, the university’s recently published accounts reveal.

The institution is currently midway through a restructuring of academic support staff, which will abolish professional services groups in each department in favour of a pan-university model.

So far, some 70 administrative posts have been consolidated into 55 new posts, with 15 voluntary redundancies, although the University and College Union says that about 75 staff in total have left as they faced downgrading.

Keith Simpson, UCU branch president, said he feared further cuts because the first stage of the professional services review, expected to close soon, has yielded only £2.5 million of the £10 million savings sought.

Staff have been “completely demoralised” by the restructuring plan, while workloads have increased dramatically owing to City’s failure to recruit replacements for departing staff in time, he said. “At one point, there were 40 vacancies in IT, which had a major impact at a time when students were arriving at the start of term,” he added.

The staffing review coincided with the recruitment – often using headhunting firms – of more than 100 academic staff in time for October’s research excellence framework deadline. The hiring of four-star professors is likely to have contributed to City’s soaring wage bill, which increased by £7 million to £109.9 million in 2012-13, according to its annual accounts.

Staff restructuring costs also increased to £3.1 million last year compared with £1.6 million in 2011-12. While City’s overall deficit rose sharply, it was covered by the £22.7 million sale of student halls of residence.

However, workloads for teaching and administrative staff have increased massively over the past year and further cuts may damage their ability to deliver high-quality student services, said Mr Simpson.

“There is a feeling of resentment that staff are being recruited at professorial level when there is so much more pressure on academics and support staff,” said Mr Simpson, who claimed that staff morale was “appallingly low”.

The focus on research staff is part of City’s strategic plan, approved by the academic council in March 2012, which spells out its ambition to reach the top 2 per cent of universities in the world by 2016 by improving its research record.

David Bolton, deputy vice-chancellor of City, said that there had been no compulsory redundancies and that, internally, shared services were already achieving the anticipated improvements and cost savings.

“We are now [moving into] in the third year of our ambitious strategic plan, which will secure City’s position as a leading global university through a renewed commitment to academic excellence [and] a continuing focus on business and the professions,” he added.

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