Union to ballot on staff cuts

May 7, 2004

Northumbria University this week announced plans to cut 58 teaching posts in a move that has left staff reeling, according to union officials.

Lecturers' union Natfhe announced its intention to ballot on industrial action, raising the prospect of strikes and marking boycotts in protest against the cuts.

But the university is already making plans to freeze recruitment, review temporary contracts and circulate voluntary redundancy proposals.

A spokesman said that the cuts were necessary to help rebalance staffing across Northumbria's 11 academic schools.

Job losses are to be focused on "over-resourced" areas such as arts and social sciences, health and education studies, and informatics - which have all failed to achieve budget surpluses or growth targets.

The spokesman said the savings would allow the university to redirect resources to subject areas for which there is still student demand. Every effort was being made to avoid compulsory redundancies, he added.

"We can no longer afford to cross-subsidise the schools that are not yet on track," the spokesman said. "We must target our resources where there is high student demand."

Three hundred academic staff have been notified that their posts are at risk, although the university insisted that it was performing well in terms of recruitment in the international student market and links with corporate businesses.

"To maintain this position in an increasingly competitive world marketplace, Northumbria has forecast the need for a minimum sustained growth of 5 per cent year on year," the university said in a statement that was sent to staff.

There were no plans to close academic divisions and courses would not be affected, the university stressed.

But Natfhe was less optimistic. "This short-term approach is bound to affect teaching as our members will not accept any extra teaching load," said Martin Levy, the union's branch secretary.

The union would be disputing the basis for the job losses, which, he said, were at least partly the result of an earlier decision to make the university's schools into individual cost centres.

"This decision is completely business led - it is the law of the jungle and leaves us all wondering who will be next," Mr Levy said. Natfhe will begin balloting on action against the cuts this week.

But the university is already finalising its rationalisation plans, including a freeze on all vacancies and the circulation of voluntary redundancy proposals.

Kel Fidler, the vice-chancellor, told staff in a letter: "Our ability to create the 'headroom' for the investment we need to remain competitive in the coming years depends not only on continued growth but also on reducing our costs, particularly our academic staff costs, which are 13 per cent higher than the UK average."

Staff selected for compulsory redundancy will be notified by the end of July if the uptake of the voluntary scheme is insufficient.

Mr Levy said: "This short notice really is incredibly insensitive to all university staff. It comes in the middle of a holiday period and will destroy any possibility of a partnership to implement the new pay framework."

alison.utley@thes.co.uk

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