Near-unanimity on strike ballot

Job losses and 'crude metrics' add up to mandate for walkout vote at Queen Mary. Paul Jump reports

June 7, 2012

Credit: Alamy
Exit here: Queen Mary says it has 'followed correct procedure' for redundancies

Academics at Queen Mary, University of London are to be balloted over strike action amid simmering acrimony over the institution's metrics-based redundancy programme.

As previously reported by Times Higher Education, 37 academics in Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry and 11 in its School of Chemical and Biological Sciences were deemed "at risk" of redundancy in a drive to improve research performance and address the medical school's £3 million deficit.

All but four of the roughly 120 academics at a packed meeting convened last week by Queen Mary's University and College Union branch endorsed a motion to proceed to a strike ballot. There were no votes against.

The ballot will also seek approval for action short of a strike, which could include refusing to help with clearing, admissions or even the research excellence framework.

Meetings with redundancy committees to confirm "at risk" academics' fates have already begun, while preparations for the ballot, which must be approved by the UCU's national executive, will take about six weeks.

But union representatives hoped that the message the ballot would send to management might prevent at least some redundancies - particularly those of academics induced to remain at Queen Mary on temporary contracts to cover teaching until their replacements are recruited.

The union also hopes that the action will persuade management to negotiate over a planned new performance assessment regime for academics across the Faculty of Science and Engineering that, like the redundancy programme, will be based on what the UCU calls "crude metrics".

The proposal envisages giving underperforming academics specific targets, such as publishing a certain number of papers of a certain quality within a certain time frame, submitting grant applications worth a certain amount by a certain date, or obtaining minimum scores in student feedback on their teaching.

A union representative at the meeting said: "We see little or no evidence that the college management, from the principal down, are listening to staff concerns. All the people facing redundancy would, in any other reasonable institution, be seen as valuable academics contributing to the institution."

But Jeremy Kilburn, vice-principal for science and engineering at Queen Mary, said the restructuring proposals had been "the subject of extensive consultations with staff and trade unions".

"Senior management are working with staff affected by the changes to help them through the process, which has been fair, transparent and followed correct procedure," he said.

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