Spectre of strike at Keele

December 21, 2007

Keele University is facing strike action from the University and College Union after it announced that 38 academics are at risk of redundancy, writes Melanie Newman.

A university consultation document said that poor recruitment to business and management courses meant that the School of Economic and Management Studies was making a £1 million annual loss.

The masters of business administration course should close because it was not accredited, as should most other current courses in the school, the document recommended.

It proposed offering new courses and restructuring the school but said that as 38 out of 67 staff had "an inappropriate skill set to support the change" their jobs were at risk. Compulsory redundancies would be made if insufficient numbers of volunteers could be found, the document added. The consultation runs until the end of January 2008.

The UCU has accused the university's management of bypassing agreed procedures by pre-selecting staff members for the axe and setting up a redundancy committee without consulting senate. It has asked for the consultation period to be extended by six months, for a diversity impact assessment to be conducted and for details of the "skills audit" carried out by management.

At a branch meeting this week, the union also resolved that unless the threat of compulsory redundancy was withdrawn, ballots for strike action would be held.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "Keele University can rest assured that if it does decide to try and push through these hurried and nonsensical redundancy plans, we will fight them all the way. The attempt to rush through redundancies at a quiet time of the year outside its own internal structures is little more than cowardly and offensive."

The school's professors are preparing a document on how recruitment could be improved. They say that student numbers have fallen since responsibility for recruitment was taken from the school and centralised. They have criticised the university for failing to address rising overhead costs or to consider how improvements to marketing could be made.

A university spokesman said that due process had been followed and it had not yet decided the redundancy criteria. "The current proposals represent a commitment by the university to develop and retain a vibrant, competitive school. The proposed restructure creates a configuration that is appropriate for purpose, reflects market demand and establishes the school both academically and financially," he said.

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