Morale plunges as London giants target academics

Imperial cuts jobs as UCL sets up committee to prepare ground for layoffs. John Morgan writes

January 28, 2010

University College London could make "unprecedented" compulsory academic redundancies, a move that follows dozens of job cuts at Imperial College London.

As part of a drive to find £3 million in savings in its faculty of life sciences, UCL has set up a "redundancy committee", as required by its governing statutes if it is considering forcing academics out.

The UCL branch of the University and College Union says in an email to members that compulsory layoffs for academics would be "unprecedented" at the institution.

At Imperial, 21 academic and non-academic posts have been cut in the faculty of medicine.

Both UCL and Imperial are members of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, which this month warned that UK higher education faced "meltdown" as a result of government budget cuts.

Michael McGarvey, president of Imperial UCU, said the institutions were "two of the top universities in the world, not just the country", according to Times Higher Education's rankings.

"If the management of these types of university behave like this, what will it be like in the rest of the UK?" he asked.

UCL staff have been told that the faculty of life sciences will "make every effort to minimise the number of redundancies" through voluntary severance and early retirement schemes.

However, Sean Wallis, UCU branch secretary at UCL, said that staff bringing in less research funding could be targeted.

This would threaten "unfashionable and curiosity-driven research" less likely to attract funding and risk changing "the nature and culture of the university", he added.

UCL is seeking 6 per cent savings across all departments. A spokesman said that the faculty of life sciences "has not been able to achieve the target set".

He said that although its teaching and research were "buoyant", the faculty had seen a rise in staff costs "at a time when income has been relatively static".

At Imperial, the UCU is unhappy that job cuts were implemented while the university went ahead with its £28 million purchase of a new site in Wood Lane.

Dr McGarvey said: "People who have been doing good work have been called in and told that they're under threat. This instability spreads among everyone. Morale is pretty much at rock bottom."

Wave of unrest

There has also been unrest over redundancy plans elsewhere in the sector.

At the University of Gloucestershire, a protest against job cuts last week coincided with an informal visit by the Quality Assurance Agency.

The UCU said it will ballot for industrial action unless redundancy proposals are withdrawn.

It said the university plans up to 16 compulsory redundancies as it strives to make up a £36 million deficit.

This week the University of Westminster told staff that it will cut 285 jobs by the end of July, equal to 156 full-time equivalent posts. The reductions initially will be delivered through a voluntary scheme.

Barry Jones, UCU regional official for London North, said there was a "high level of shock around the university".

Westminster wants to break even and reduce staff costs to less than 60 per cent of its budget, he added.

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