The University of Reading’s vice-chancellor Sir David Bell has lost a vote of no confidence organised by staff.
In an online poll arranged by staff opposed to a major overhaul of professional services, 88 per cent of those who voted – 1,071 in total – said they did not have confidence in Sir David or in planned efficiency measures.
The poll follows anger over a university-wide reorganisation of support staff, which has led to job losses and some employees being downgraded. Reading’s use of consultancy services – which cost £13.5 million in 2013-14 – has also attracted criticism.
The University and College Union said the “overwhelming vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor shows the strength of opposition across...Reading to the cost cutting plans”.
However, the university has said it will not apologise “for taking tough decisions and choices”, while its governors have given Sir David their unequivocal support.
“It’s time for the management of Reading to start listening to concerns raised by staff,” said Paul Hatcher, UCU branch president.
“UCU is willing to talk and negotiate to find alternatives to downgrading and redundancies wherever possible,” he added.
He added that staff were worried about the review and its impact on students, jobs and working conditions, and also concerned that key functions of the university are being centralised without adequate safeguards being put in place to ensure continuity of student support.
In a letter to staff, Sir David, a former Ofsted chief, said “engagement could, and should, have been stronger” and “important lessons...must be learned for the future”.
However, he said “there have been no credible alternative plans put forward on how we put our long-term finances in order, without major cuts to academic activities”.
Reading has said the compulsory redundancies from the professional services shake-up are likely to number in their “tens”, with 123 taking voluntary redundancy and just 13 staff accepting downgrades. Some 670 staff have been confirmed in their grades, but in different roles.
The university says spending on the review and the redundancies will allow it to cut £7.8 million from its budget towards a target of £15 million, and mean it could generate a £10 million surplus from 2020 onwards.
It says it will not challenge the vote of no confidence, which has no formal standing in Reading’s governance, but questioned whether the online poll had been open to electoral abuse and rigging.