Union warns of harmful staff cut

June 7, 2002

Academics at Newcastle University have warned that a round of redundancies announced last week will damage the student experience.

The university said redundancies were needed to achieve the next phase of a repositioning strategy. A voluntary severance scheme that began last year has achieved only half the £6 million salary savings the university believes are necessary to reposition it among the UK's top ten institutions.

A spokesperson said 129 staff had volunteered to go but there had been a considerable downturn in applications for voluntary severance over the spring.

"The university always recognised that making the savings to improve efficiency would necessitate a degree of streamlining... and the possibility of compulsory redundancies had never been ruled out," the spokesperson said.

The Association of University Teachers said that the university's methods would not succeed in improving its standing. "The loss of staff will mean that there is a major increase in workload for remaining staff, many of whom are already overloaded and working excessive hours. This means that the quality of the student experience at Newcastle will become poorer, with larger tutorial groups, larger groups in practical classes, and research activity may suffer too."

The AUT said it was also sceptical about plans to spend the money saved on projects to enhance the university's standing.

The AUT said: "The rush to restructure within an unrealistic timescale is inherently harmful for the university. A more realistic timescale would enable the university to make a more careful analysis of the needs and true opportunities that are available, without staff demoralisation and redundancies. The whole process is being pushed through in just over a year."

Three new faculty groupings have already been established, replacing the old university structure that consisted of 75 departments. Heads of new schools have recently been appointed, and academic staff have until the end of July to decide whether they wish to apply for voluntary severance.

One member of staff who did not wish to be named said some lecturers felt threatened by the deadline and were anxious that unless they volunteered to go, the university would start "picking people off".

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