Union members at the University of Leeds will be balloted on industrial action next week unless last-minute arbitration talks produce a deal on job cuts.
The Leeds branch of the University and College Union will commence talks with university management on 5 January through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, with a subsequent meeting scheduled for 11 January.
UCU wants the university to rule out compulsory redundancies in its current efficiency reviews, which the union has warned will lead to 700 job losses. If no solution is reached through the Acas talks, UCU will ballot for industrial action.
Leeds has announced plans to make annual savings of £35 million by 2011. Its total spending in 2008-09 was £485 million.
The university has not specified how many jobs will go, but Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of Leeds, has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.
Malcolm Povey, UCU branch president, said the university had “an insistence on compulsory redundancies”.
“It could say: ‘We will not be making anybody compulsorily redundant in this round of reviews’,” he said. “It doesn’t have to forswear compulsory redundancies in principle. It can well afford to do that. Leeds has £86 million in cash and cash reserves.”
UCU also accused the university of acting in “bad faith” after it “insisted that professors applied for their own jobs over the Christmas break, despite previously agreeing to discuss the job cuts through Acas”.
Professor Povey said that the job descriptions issued to professors in the biological sciences were “incredibly narrow” and a “total negation of academic freedom”.
Unison and Unite representatives have been invited to the Acas talks as observers.
UCU has said that 54 jobs have already gone in the reviews, and argued that 700 job losses would make Leeds’ student-staff ratio the worst of any Russell Group university.
The union put the Leeds cuts in the context of the fresh £135 million budget reduction for higher education announced by Lord Mandelson in the annual grant letter last month.
“Staff have no desire to be hit by the savage cuts planned for higher education,” Professor Povey said. “The talks are absolutely vital if the university is to avoid strike action this year. Leeds likes to see itself as a pioneer both in Yorkshire and the country, but we don’t intend to pioneer cuts.”
A Leeds spokeswoman said: “We agree with UCU that government cuts to the higher education budget are a risk to the quality and international competitiveness of the UK university sector and we are continuing to make that point to the Government and Opposition parties. But we can’t see what good strike action at Leeds would do.
“Severe cuts are a reality for the next academic year, and, like countless other organisations, the university has to make savings to keep its books balanced as income falls and costs rise. We are committed to working with the unions to avoid compulsory redundancies if we can, and we will be doing everything possible to protect the quality of our academic work.”
5 January update
A spokesman for the University of Leeds said further meetings with UCU through Acas are scheduled to take place on 19 and 25 January.