Compulsory redundancies are likely at the University of Salford as part of a plan to save £12.5 million over three years.
A notice by university registrar Adrian Graves, approved by the university's council, said that Salford needed to invest £300 million in university estate and £40 million in relocating the arts and media faculty to the "Media City" site in Salford, where the BBC is to establish its northern headquarters.
Dr Graves said that these additional costs came in the context of a number of pressures: salary bills that had "exceeded the university's expectations"; a "serious problem" with student retention; the "credit crunch"; and three "seriously underperforming" schools. He is chairing a financial review with a view to saving £7.5 million next year and £5 million in the following two years.
"The scale of the savings required is such that it is unlikely that they can be achieved without reducing our workforce," he said, adding that the underperforming schools were at particular risk.
The council has approved Dr Graves' request to establish a redundancy committee.
Academics have complained that they had been told nothing since an internal announcement of the potential redundancies on 2 July.
"We have been left dangling - many of us with kids, worried that we may not have a job," a group of staff said in a letter to Times Higher Education before the university issued an update.
Affected schools include the School of Nursing, which is financially healthy but for which a deficit is forecast because National Health Service funding will be based on student completions, not enrolments, in future. Staff at the school have argued that the effect of this is unpredictable.
A restructuring of the Business School and efforts to reduce a deficit in the School of Community Health Sciences and Social Care are also likely to lead to job losses. Some hourly-paid staff are understood to have been laid off. The University and College Union queried whether these staff were fairly treated under the law on equal treatment of fixed-term and part-time workers.
A Salford spokesman said: "Though Salford is fundamentally sound, we need to create the financial 'headroom' to be able to reinvest in certain of our activities, and to do this the university is seeking to improve its overall efficiency and effectiveness. Over the summer, plans have been developed with managers and these plans are at the stage where we anticipate going into detailed discussions with the trade unions and staff very shortly.
"The university appreciates that this is a difficult time for its staff and it is inevitable that people will want more information about what is happening. As further information becomes available it will be communicated."
Meanwhile, non-academic unions are in negotiations after the sale of student accommodation to Australian company Campus Living Villages. Talks are focusing on pensions for staff moving into the company's employment, as it has said it will not match the local government superannuation scheme.
LEGAL WARNING OVER REDUNDANCY DECISIONS
An employment lawyer has warned universities not to pick on staff who are paid by the hour when seeking to reduce their workforce.
Matt Jenkin, a partner at Morgan Cole solicitors, said a decision to select an individual for redundancy on the basis that they were paid by the hour could leave the university vulnerable to legal action.
Hourly-paid staff are often employed on a part-time basis. "Any dismissal on grounds of part-time status is automatically unfair," said Mr Jenkin, who was not referring to any specific institution. "Given that it is often the case that part-time employees are also hourly paid, selection criteria based only on hourly status could leave the employer exposed."
As hourly-paid employees tend to number more women than men, there would also be a risk of indirect sex discrimination.
"The procedural requirements of a fair dismissal are that selection criteria are objective and fairly applied," he said. "Selection on the basis of hourly-paid status only could be viewed as too narrow and not objective."
But, Mr Jenkin added, this did not mean that hourly-paid employees should be ring-fenced and protected from redundancy. "It may well be that the majority of hourly-paid employees are employed on the teaching rather than research side," he pointed out. "If cuts are to be made on the teaching side, it is inevitable that this would include some hourly-paid employees."
Universities should select a mix of hourly-paid and salaried staff as a pool for redundancy. "Objective selection criteria should then be applied, based on skills required for the reduced number of roles. If that resulted in an hourly-paid employee being selected it is difficult to see how the decision could be challenged solely on the basis of their hourly-paid status."