Last week, Sussex announced plans for private companies to take over the management of its estates, facilities, catering and conference services from August 2013.
Unions were informed just a day before the university went public with the decision on 10 May.
A spokesman for the UCU condemned the move, suggesting it was a knee-jerk reaction to funding difficulties.
“Selling off parts of an institution to private companies is not good for the institution and certainly not for the staff,” he told Times Higher Education. “Private companies looking to drive down costs to maximise profits will be looking at staff pay and their terms and conditions to cut corners and save cash.”
Under employment regulations, staff would be transferred to the companies on their current terms and conditions. Areas affected include cleaning, catering, print and reprographic services, recycling management, security and grounds management.
In a statement to staff, John Duffy, Sussex’s registrar and secretary, says that the move is not about cutting workers, but about providing for greater numbers of students in the future.
“As we grow, we need to ensure we provide support services to our students and staff as efficiently and effectively as possible – making best use both of public funding and, increasingly, of our students’ own investment,” he says.
In a letter to Michael Farthing, Sussex’s vice-chancellor, on 14 May, the University of Sussex Students’ Union voices its concerns that the proposals could have a negative impact on student welfare, the affordability of services, accountability and ethics.
It calls on Professor Farthing to outline how he will ensure that the move does not lead to a two-tier wage structure, with transferred staff working for less cash and in less favourable conditions than those in areas still run by the university.
Sussex plans to choose its private partners by March next year.