Academic redundancies:general members meeting Wednesday March 16th

Those of you in the Faculty of Arts will have received already the shocking news that the Faculty plans to cut 11.5 Full Time Equivalent staff across five departments. At present, we expect that this will translate into a minimum of 12 people who will lose their jobs with some departments facing more than a 20% reduction in staff. Though the date for issuing notice has not been confirmed, we have good reason to believe that these redundancies will come into effect before the start of the 2016/17 academic year.


This coming Wednesday, March 16, we will be holding a general meeting at 1pm in Pope A13. This meeting will address the current proposals for the Arts and crucially we will also address as a matter of urgency the risk of redundancy facing schools in other faculties now and over the coming years. What is happening in the Arts today is indicative of a politics of austerity that is already having repercussions across our university. It is affecting what we teach and research, how we work and indeed whether some of us work at all.

It is imperative that all members seek to attend this meeting which will decide the Branch’s response to the current proposals and also our long-term strategy for challenging redundancies across the institution.

These proposed redundancies are part of a larger picture in which the University targets staff costs (in this case £900k) while seeking to generate a £30 million surplus to cover capital investment. In addition to the new £40 million sports centre, the current proposals for cuts were being finalised as it was announced that the University would be spending £17 million on a new arts building: Moreover, the announcement comes while schools are bracing themselves for the disruption and uncertainty that will be caused by the implementation of the £50 million Project Transform, which will see irreparable changes to the working lives of administrative staff for the sake of ensuring that the minimum necessary expenditure can be allocated to supporting the needs of our students.


The current drive to cut staff costs across the University is a direct result of recent changes in the way that University organises its finances and the variable contribution rates assigned to different units. Surely in view of the departure of the Chief Financial Officer, this would be a good time to rethink the constraints that are exerting a strangle-hold on school budgets. Our view is that the contribution rates imposed on faculties ought to be debated openly and the rationale behind them subjected to due scrutiny to ensure that the current rates are both fair and necessary. Notably, when UCU asked whether the Arts Faculty’s contribution rate might be re-examined, the response was yes but only after “the Faculty is as lean as it can be.” In other words, this rate may well change but only after Management is certain that staff are providing the maximum return for minimum investment.


Many of you will know colleagues who have already been made redundant as a result of programme changes and course closures. Others will know of staff invited to ‘informal’ meetings at which senior managers encouraged individuals (behind closed doors and without union representation) to accept voluntary severance packages. The current proposals take these developments a step further because 11 FTE will be cut from programmes that will continue to run. We continue to oppose compulsory redundancies whatever the number, but our view is that if the current proposals proceed unchanged we will see more individual redundancies and an increase in multiple redundancies within single units.


While it is some small consolation that the University does not plan to close departments as part of the current review, the plan to  cut staff and maintain delivery of teaching and research sets a dangerous precedent. It may well be that many of you are in schools or departments where the spectre of double-digit redundancies is already on the horizon and our view is that this approach to cost-saving needs to be opposed before it spreads.


In addition to the redundancies themselves, the selection criteria that are being proposed will set far-reaching and dangerous precedents. It is proposed that staff in affected departments submit information on their contributions to Strategy 2020 measured against the promotion criteria for their current level. These contributions will be scored and those with the lowest scores will be selected for redundancy. Staff will in effect be competing with each other to stay in post, a process that will be deeply divisive and will have a long-term impact on the morale of these departments. Moreover this approach suggests that SET and SEM scores, embedded in the promotion process, will directly influence the decision about whether or not individuals will face redundancy. Such a scenario would represent a serious misuse of the student voice that has a very real risk of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender and disability. It also puts the fates of hardworking staff in the hands of a student-evaluation process that is non-transparent and notoriously unreliable.


UCU has particular concerns over the stated rationale for the proposed cuts in the Arts and about the real risk that short-term thinking will damage the long-term viability of the departments in question. These issues will be discussed at greater length on Wednesday, but our overarching concern, relevant to each and every one of our members, is the way that redundancy and the threat of redundancy are undermining the very values of co-operation, self-directed research and high-quality teaching that were once taken as the hallmarks of a great university.


Together we can make a difference. It is only a few short months since a co-ordinated Union response saw the number of compulsory redundancies for level 5 and 6 APM staff anticipated as part of Project Transform drop from over 20 to zero. If you are able to attend the meeting on Wednesday, please do come and add your voice as we co-ordinate our defence not only of jobs but also of the values we all cherish.


Motions to be discussed can be downloaded here:  Motions 16 march


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