South Bank's Waterloo

June 28, 1996

My colleague, Mary Davis's understandable distress over the fact that there are to be some academic posts declared redundant at South Bank University (THES Letters, June 21) has led her to misunderstand and misrepresent the situation.

1. The statistical information offered by Ms Davis needs careful analysis. The "job losses" of which she writes so vigorously are made up as follows: 24 colleagues over the age of 50 will be taking early retirement this summer and a further ten posts will become redundant. The remaining 42 "job losses" do not represent people in post but were vacancies, the vast majority of which had been unfilled since September 1995. A further eight jobs will eventually be lost, but the present staff will remain in post until such time as they choose to leave. Ms Davis, moreover, ignores those posts that have been released this summer. Seven posts are being advertised and filled and these must be deducted from any figure of "job losses". Similarly, she neglects deliberately my letter to all staff of May 17, in which I wrote "The position should be more clear in the autumn, by which time we will know our recruitment figures for 1996/97, have some idea of any likely holdback for 1997, and should have knowledge of the salary settlements. At that time the staffing committee will meet again to review the staffing situation, in the hope of releasing some additional jobs". There has been no "savage assault", on academic staff at South Bank, and nor will there be.

2. It follows, therefore, that the staff:student ratio figures for the university do not show any dramatic changes from this year to the next. Dealing with Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded staff and students only, the overall university staff:student ratio will be 1:20.5 in the next session on the assumption that we reach our target numbers. The best-off school will have 1:16.5 and the worst-off school will have 1:23.5.

3. Despite a technical majority among those voting, there has been no overwhelming support for industrial action at the university. In the recent ballot of Natfhe members there were 538 possible voters, of whom 250 did not vote at all. These figures reveal that only 24 per cent of the academic staff have voted for any form of industrial action, and 15 per cent for a strike. Moreover, a recent Natfhe branch meeting called to discuss what action might follow the vote was inquorate at various points in its proceedings and, finally, produced only 17 votes in favour of (four against) some kind of action relating to university examinations.

4. It is not the case, as Ms Davis's letter claims, that colleagues' support for the conference and lobby held on June 25 is a consequence of the ballot. Quite the opposite, on the very day of its publication, solicitors representing Natfhe wrote to the university's solicitors stating "the Natfhe co-ordinating committee has decided not to call a day of action, but instead to invite its members to attend the rally". Thus, Natfhe members can take up the permission given to them earlier to attend the rally subject to the agreement of their head of school and the requirement to ensure that the university operates normally. Ms Davis completely misrepresents a situation, clearly understood by the Natfhe solicitors, when they say: "There is no intention from the union to instruct members to attend in breach of their contract of employment or in contravention of any refusal from a head of school".

5. Ms Davis is keen also to portray the university as uncaring and unfeeling in the way it has set about redundancy. It is a portrayal that should be rejected. The university is purchasing six years of enhanced pension for each individual taking early retirement, some of those holding posts declared redundant will receive a full year's salary in lieu of notice, all holding posts that might be declared redundant have been offered private consultancy and placement advice at the expense of the university.

The very great majority of hard working and committed collegues recognise that, if the university is to continue to thrive, it must reorganise its resources in a more efficient manner and ensure that new developments can take place with adequate funding directed to them. Strident and confusing rhetoric will help neither staff nor students address the problems which all institutions now face.

Gerald Bernbaum Vice chancellor, South Bank University

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