Lecturers at Birmingham and Aston universities could lose their employment protection rights if the two institutions go ahead with merger plans, union leaders warned this week.
A decision by both university councils that, in the event of a merger, each university would be dissolved to create one of Britain's biggest institutions, might leave staff with no way to defend their jobs, according to the Association of University Teachers.
Lecturers are usually guaranteed employment protection when institutions merge through the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (Tupe) legislation, while those who were employed before November 1987 and who have not been promoted still have academic tenure rights.
But there is a danger they will not be covered by these laws in the case of the move under consideration at Birmingham and Aston.
The two universities have set up a joint strategy group to report by December on the feasibility of "full institutional integration, following 18 months of deliberation by a joint task group on proposals for closer collaboration".
Aston vice-chancellor Michael Wright told staff he was "not embarking down the road of potential take-overs", which was why a "double dissolution model" had been chosen.
He said: "Whether (academic areas) are affected in terms of job losses or redistribution of responsibilities, I don't know."
Martin Machon, AUT assistant general secretary for the West Midlands, said there was no precedent for such a merger model and the employment, financial and academic implications had yet to be explored.
"If you dissolve the two institutions, including their charters, then staff may be left with no job security. These are just some of a whole list of questions that need to be carefully addressed... before we rush into a merger," he said.
Professor Wright and Maxwell Irvine, Birmingham's vice-chancellor, acknowledged there were employment protection issues. Birmingham is proposing to shed jobs to address a forecast deficit of Pounds 1.3 million. Aston is carrying a Pounds 1.2 million deficit.
Professor Irvine said: "Since current conditions of employment are with the existing institutions, the protection of employment rights is a very legitimate consideration. I would have thought our governing councils would be uncomfortable if it was thought we would not honour Tupe-type arrangements."