Research cuts cost 50 jobs

July 25, 2003

Sunderland University is to shed almost 50 staff in a bid to stave off a financial crisis caused by the concentration of research funds on a handful of institutions.

Lecturers' union Natfhe threatened industrial action in response to the move, which it claimed would damage quality.

The university confirmed this week that it would lose 47 jobs, including 31 academic posts, after its research budget was cut by 43.4 per cent for 2003-04. The reduction means that Sunderland's overall funding settlement for the year, including teaching funds, increased to 3.2 per cent, only just above inflation.

Vice-chancellor Peter Fidler said: "Given the current financial context, it is no surprise to see more universities reporting deficits. We are working hard to stabilise our position after a disappointing financial settlement from the Higher Education Funding Council for England."

As The THES went to press, the university was due to confirm five compulsory redundancies from 2004 in the geology department, where university sources say there are just 16 students.

Natfhe acknowledged the national funding problems, but also claimed that the university had mismanaged its finances.

It said that, although most universities have suffered a decline in funding over the past decade, it believes that "poor management and marketing strategies, and inadequate financial planning have exacerbated the problem". It said the university was failing to protect academic courses and was focusing on employer-led, vocational degrees.

The union claims the university has not sufficiently explored alternatives to redundancy, such as redeployment to alternative degree programmes, and warned that substantial staff cuts would put standards at risk.

Adrian Jones, Natfhe's regional official, said: "It is unfair that 47 members of staff may be sacrificed for the mistakes that management has made. Teaching staff have worked against the odds to keep standards high and deliver good results. The university repays them by cynically announcing job cuts while people are on annual leave."

He confirmed that the union would consider industrial action in the autumn if compulsory redundancies were not ruled out.

Professor Fidler said: "Our plans have always been to secure the savings we need without resorting to compulsory measures, if at all possible. We are confident we can progress substantially towards our target of necessary reductions through voluntary severance and natural means, such as leavers and retirements.

"We have to continually adjust to ensure that the quality of teaching, courses and research, for which Sunderland has gained a national and international reputation, remains secure."

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