Senior UCL staff condemn job cuts

October 7, 2005

Senior academics at University College London fear that teaching and research standards will fall if the institution goes ahead with plans to cut 15 per cent of posts, according to a union survey of staff.

The poll, the first of its kind from the Association of University Teachers, was sent to UCL's 678 professors, readers and heads of department, regardless of whether or not they were union members.

An AUT spokesman said a poll seemed the ideal tool to test whether the college was correct to assume that its staff backed the cuts. He said the union would be likely to carry out similar surveys at other institutions in future.

Of UCL's professors, 156, or about one in four, responded to the poll, as did 20 department and faculty heads. Its results show that:

* Fifty per cent of senior academics believed the cuts would harm UCL's national and international reputation

* Almost 68 per cent of staff feared that the cuts would lead to a drop in teaching standards

* Almost 55 per cent believed that belt-tightening would weaken the college's quality of research

* More than 50 per cent disagreed with the reasons given.

Malcolm Grant, UCL's provost, intends to cut the number of teaching posts funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England by 5 per cent for the next three academic years to reduce the college's £7.5 million budget deficit.

Justine Stephens, head of campaigns at AUT, said: "This survey is a damning indictment of UCL's strategic vision. Dressing up large-scale redundancies as improvements or defending them as part of a 'strategic long-term vision'

will not wash with staff, students or future students. AUT urges the college to go back to the drawing board."

A union source, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Times Higher that the axe was likely to fall on UCL's Medical School. He said its infection and immunity department and medical illustration unit were believed to be most at risk.

UCL has secured a multimillion-pound merger with the National Institute for Medical Research to become one of the country's largest centres for patient-based research.

The source said he feared electrical engineering would also suffer heavily.

A UCL spokesman denied that certain departments were particularly vulnerable. "It is pure speculation to name departments, given that the programme is being developed at faculty level. We have no plans to close any departments.

"The whole process has been, and will continue to be, run in an open and transparent manner. We believe that the reasons for the programme are well understood across the university."

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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