London faces mass academic job losses

June 1, 2001

Up to 1,000 job losses are on the cards in London's higher education institutions.

Redundancies are planned or have taken place at new and old universities including South Bank, Greenwich, East London, King's College, Imperial and Queen Mary.

At Greenwich, up to 130 researchers are set to lose their jobs at the Natural Resources Institute after a £5.3 million deficit last year. A spokeswoman said income had dropped faster than expenditure at the institute, which was taken over by the university in 1996. She added that the number of redundancies would be reduced through redeployment and retraining.

Greenwich is also closing its Dartford campus. There will be no academic job losses, but unions fear that up to 100 support staff jobs could be lost. The campus, which houses the schools of architecture and landscape and land and construction management, will be closed in the summer of 2002-03.

Discussions are also under way about the future of the university's Woolwich campus.

At South Bank, one of six universities asked to produce a recovery plan by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, 92 jobs will be lost during the next three years. Although many will be voluntary, there will be some compulsory redundancies in areas that have struggled to recruit students. Some language courses are closing as are some courses in the faculty of engineering and the built environment.

Middlesex is shedding staff as part of a restructuring plan. It says it will lose up to 90 posts, both academic and support. The university said voluntary redundancies would be offered.

Middlesex plans to rationalise its eight medium-sized campuses into three large sites plus a health campus, a programme that could take ten years and would involve building a campus at Tottenham Hale. This would give the university the capacity to increase student numbers from 25,000 to 30,000.

At East London, staff have suspended a planned three-day strike and assessment boycott after the university said: "While we cannot guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies, the senior management team is absolutely committed to finding a solution to the budgetary deficit for 2001-02 without recourse to compulsory redundancy."

The university needs to find savings of £800,000 this year, the equivalent of 20 posts. A voluntary redundancy programme is ongoing. Some members of staff believe the institution needs to cut as many as 150 posts over the next three years.

A spokeswoman said the university was still in discussions with Hefce and that it was too early to give figures.

Luton is predicting the net loss of 60 posts.

Job losses are also on the cards at some of London's old universities, notably King's, where a strategic plan aims to cut nearly 250 staff posts, including about 170 academic or academic-related jobs.

Imperial College asked seven earth sciences staff to take early retirement and has seen 60 voluntary redundancies in the medical school. Queen Mary has seen some voluntary redundancies in its medical school.

Royal Holloway announced that there would be ten to 15 redundancies, academic and administrative, during the next year.

"We expect to meet the target through voluntary redundancy," a spokeswoman said. She added that the college would review its range of courses.

Many job cuts have been driven by student recruitment problems in unpopular subjects such as languages. But commentators fear that if multiple institutions cut the same courses, London may end up with no provision for some disciplines.

Both East London and South Bank are considering cutting language courses, while Greenwich does not offer language degrees. This means large tracts of south and east London may offer little by way of language education in their new universities.

Jenny Golden, London regional officer for lecturers' union Natfhe, said languages were not the only area of concern. "It is also civil engineering and surveying," she said. "This situation is an argument for some kind of strategic planning for London."

Andrew Pakes, spokesman for the Association of University Teachers, said:

"It is quite a harsh restructuring process that universities are going through and we do not feel we are being brought into discussions at an early enough stage. The confidence and morale of our members is quite shaken."

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