Poor RAE results lead to job cuts

Stirling plans overhaul of its hiring strategy as research funding falls. Melanie Newman reports

September 24, 2009

A university is to stop hiring teaching fellows and will headhunt "rising stars" in a bid to enhance its research profile.

Staff-to-student ratios at the University of Stirling will increase to about 1:30 as the university strives to shore up its finances after a disappointing performance in the research assessment exercise led to a £3.1 million drop in research income in 2009-10.

A voluntary severance scheme, which closed this month, aimed to cut up to 140 posts and eliminate a £4.4 million deficit.

The Future Directions academic restructuring plan sets out the further changes required to improve research income.

First to go will be the strategy of recruiting teaching fellows, which aimed to facilitate greater research activity. The strategy "has not delivered" and the balance between teaching and research staff is "not appropriate in a research-led institution", the document says.

Teaching fellow posts will no longer be advertised unless "genuinely unavoidable".

The positions of all academics who were not submitted to the RAE are being reviewed and the university will no longer appoint staff "on potential" - they must have proven research achievements.

Department heads are being asked to identify "rising stars" who might be attracted to Stirling and to "engage such persons in dialogue when posts become vacant".

The document notes that the annual financial return per academic varies from £30,000 to £139,000 and that while academics are "wary of thinking in terms of productivity ... the development of a culture that can accommodate such thinking is essential".

Staff-to-student ratios at the university vary from 1:14 to 1:30. In the document, Stirling admits that the higher figure causes some concern but says it is "an inevitable condition of continuing research". It also points out that "not many years ago, a proposed ratio of 1:10 caused similar consternation".

The plan sets out proposals to concentrate investment on areas promising income growth, such as STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), healthcare and sports, while reducing funding in other areas.

The areas facing reductions have not yet been identified, but arts subjects are most likely to be cut as efforts to attract taught postgraduate and overseas students in these areas have been "disappointing".

The University and College Union said the paper, which it called "negative and punitively worded", had "caused great disquiet and concern among staff".

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

ENTIRE DEPARTMENT MAY CLOSE

The University of Birmingham may close its sociology department after an internal review that is due to report next month.

The exercise follows a poor performance in the 2008 research assessment exercise by the department, which was set up five years ago.

This has been blamed partly on a policy of submitting all staff and a policy of hiring junior staff - 12 of the 18 academics submitted were taking part in their first RAE.

The department has also been hit by its high A-level admissions requirement, which many students with offers failed to reach.

Under normal circumstances, students with lower scores would have been accepted.

But the Government's cap on undergraduate numbers, combined with over-recruitment by other Birmingham departments, saw sociology's first-year student intake fall from 100 to 50 this year.

The university denied claims that it had failed to consult staff on the plans.

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