Union attacks Newport haste to make redundancies

January 5, 2007

A redundancy hitlist drafted by the University of Wales, Newport, was part of a "dubious" job-cutting process adopted by managers keen to rush through course closures, union leaders said this week.

Staff named in a confidential "divestment" paper leaked to The Times Higher were targeted for redundancy in August 2005 - months before any internal or external consultation began over proposals to axe programmes in Newport's School of Health and Social Science.

Five of the six lecturers in archaeology and environmental management identified in the paper subsequently took voluntary redundancy from full-time posts; the sixth resigned in protest over the handling of the cuts.

Inside sources told The Times Higher that no other staff had been asked to give up their jobs.

This week, the University and College Union suggested there could be a question mark over the legality of Newport's actions.

Roger Kline, the union's head of equality and employment rights, said: "UCU would always expect any institution to follow legal requirements and maintain good industrial relations in any potential redundancy by properly consulting with UCU prior to any decision about who, if anyone, should be made redundant.

"That consultation should include seeking to reduce or eliminate the need for redundancies, ensuring that there are no compulsory redundancies, that the process is equality-proofed and that no individual is identified as selected for redundancy until those processes are agreed.

"Any process that doesn't follow those criteria is dubious and questionable."

Academics at Newport told The Times Higher that staff named in the divestment paper were put "under enormous pressure" to take voluntary redundancy when the university decided their courses were failing to recruit enough students.

It has also been claimed that the university failed to follow proper validation procedures after making big changes in environmental management courses following the staff cuts.

Newport admitted this week that it began consulting on its redundancy plans only at the beginning of 2006 - after the divestment paper had been drawn up.

A spokesman described the paper as "an early planning document" that was revised after consultation. However, the same hitlist appears in a later version also leaked to The Times Higher .

Complaints from students on the courses affected have prompted leaders of the Welsh Assembly Government to call for an investigation by quality watchdogs and funding chiefs into the way Newport shut archaeology and began phasing out courses in environmental management, which are due to close this year.

Rhodri Morgan, Assembly First Minister, writing in a letter to Amelia Lyons, dean of the School of Health and Social Sciences, says that previous correspondence from the school "suggests that the environmental management degree may not be validated in its current form", following an admission from Ms Lyons that "procedures have been followed inconsistently".

Jane Davidson, Assembly Education Minister, has written to the students promising to involve "external agents" in investigating the complaints.

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