London Met may cut 500 jobs, UCU claims

A bid to claw back £50m could lead to large-scale redundancies. Rebecca Attwood reports

January 22, 2009

As many as 500 jobs could go at London Metropolitan University as the university faces a clawback of more than £50 million of funding - according to the lecturers' trade union.

Members of the University and College Union at London Met received a message from their branch that says that between one in five and one in seven of all staff jobs could go to help meet the £15 million reduction in the university's grant from 2008-09.

According to the communication, this does not take into account an additional £38 million the university was overpaid between 2005 and 2008 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Efforts to recover this could result in further redundancies, the union fears.

As Times Higher Education revealed last July, Hefce says that problems with the university's data on student dropouts mean that the university has been overpaid by the funding council for several years.

As reported in last week's Times Higher Education, Brian Roper, the vice-chancellor, told staff that Hefce was considering investing in the university through its Strategic Development Fund if it could permanently reduce its operating costs "to stabilise its position before growth".

Mr Roper warned staff that "large-scale compulsory redundancies" had become "a very real requirement".

The union's message says: "Management are looking to lose 330 FTE (full-time equivalent) jobs as soon as possible. This could mean up to 500 individuals (between one in seven and one in five of the current staff)."

One third of these jobs are likely to be academic staff, it says.

"These redundancies are designed to deal with the permanent 'step down' in funding; they do not take into account repayment of £38 million (the university was overpaid by Hefce). This implies that there might have to be more redundancies in the future," the message continues.

It says voluntary redundancies will be "very rushed", with staff leaving the university by the end of July.

Commenting on Mr Roper's warning that the university may be able to afford only statutory terms for compulsory redundancies, the union's message says: "This is iniquitous in its own right but also appears to be designed as a threat to push people into volunteering (for redundancy) ... They (the managers) argue that voluntary redundancies are too expensive and so many volunteers may be turned down."

It raises the concern that those turned down for voluntary severance might be singled out for compulsory redundancy.

At meetings held last week, union members called for a vote of no confidence in the university management. An online petition against the job cuts had attracted some 500 signatures as Times Higher Education went to press.

A London Met union source said: "Our members are understandably angry that they are being asked to pay for mistakes that are not of their own making. They blame senior management, among others, for the mess the university finds itself in."

A spokeswoman for London Met said the details of any redundancies were being worked through in consultation with the university's unions.

"We will not comment further until this process is complete," she said.

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