The University of Warwick’s decision to single out academics for redundancy on the basis of their research income has been likened to treating them like City traders.
Associate professors, readers and professors in Warwick’s medical school were told last month that those who had not brought in an average of £90,000 as principal investigators (or £150,000 as co-investigators) over the past four years were at risk of redundancy.
There are exemptions for those on teaching- or research-only contracts and for those who have taken up administrative roles or been appointed since June 2012.
Despite this, 20 academics face a meeting with Peter Winstanley, dean of the medical school, this week or next to set out any mitigating circumstances. Final decisions on redundancies are expected in March.
A similar process in Warwick’s School of Life Sciences earlier this year resulted in two academics being made compulsorily redundant and eight others accepting voluntary redundancy because they had not brought in an average of £75,000.
In an email to University and College Union activists this month, Dennis Leech, president of Warwick’s branch of the UCU, says the financial targets put academics in “a similar position to market traders in the City, who are judged solely on the amount of money they raise”.
He also notes that the “medical school contains a variety of laboratory and social scientists, whose needs [in terms of grants] are very diverse”.
According to the Times Higher Education annual analysis of research council income, Warwick secured £32 million in 2013-14 – down from £45 million the previous year but still the 11th highest in the UK.
The redundancy criteria were decided by a committee of three lay members of Warwick’s council working with two academics.
A spokesman for Warwick said the financial criteria had been adopted because the schools had failed to meet their financial targets. He added that academics had been aware of those targets.
But an academic within the medical school denied having been given a financial target and questioned the legality of applying the redundancy criteria retrospectively. The source complained of a lack of transparency over how the figures had been calculated and suggested that the deficit was partly due to several million pounds in outlay on recruiting top researchers for the research excellence framework.
A petition has been launched by the UCU calling on Nigel Thrift, Warwick’s vice-chancellor, to reverse the “damaging and dangerous” process.
David Colquhoun, emeritus professor of pharmacology at University College London, likened Warwick’s financial targets to those given to former Imperial College London scholar Stefan Grimm shortly before he was found dead in September.
He said such targets would push academics, “terrified of being cast on to the streets at short notice”, to “massage data” and carry out the most expensive research they could – by which taxpayers should be “outraged”.