Strike action threatened over Glasgow University job cuts

28th May 2010 at 01:00
With 25 posts in jeopardy, union condemns management handling of the dispute

Staff at Glasgow University's education faculty are to be balloted on strike action in a bitter dispute over compulsory redundancies.

The faculty's senior management is looking for 25 job cuts in the wake of drastic reductions to the department's initial teacher education programme. Some 80 jobs are to be cut across the university overall.

But by last week, the cut-off date for applications for voluntary redundancies, only four people had applied. Six had intimated various levels of interest, but the eventual figure of voluntary departures will probably be seven, leaving a potential 18 compulsory job losses, predicted Liam Kane, the education faculty's representative for the University and College Union (UCU) Scotland.

Similar job cuts at Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities' education faculties have been achieved entirely by voluntary redundancies, said Tony Axon, UCU Scotland's spokesman, but Glasgow had unified opposition to its plans by the way it was managing the process.

Mr Kane, who works in Glasgow's Department of Adult and Continuing Education (DACE), criticised the senior management of the education faculty for lack of consultation with staff unions. Last week, a faculty meeting on cuts had led to a vote of no confidence in the dean, James Conroy, and a walkout of staff, he said.

Staff who were considered expendable had been put into "pools", he explained, and when it came to compulsory redundancies, they would be interviewed individually and scored out of five against the criteria of research, teaching and flexibility. Mr Kane interpreted "flexibility" as meaning "Will you do as you're telt?" and "Can you fill in here, there and everywhere?"

The areas of cuts had been decided according to what the senior management felt were in the "long-term interests of the faculty", he said. Some departments, including DACE, were being targeted, despite the fact that they were not affected by the initial teacher education cuts.

Members of staff who have not been allocated to the "pools" but who want to leave, may "bump" other staff from the pools but only if they identify someone willing to swap places and receive the agreement of the faculty's managers, said Dr Axon. By placing the onus on staff to find someone they could "bump", the management had alienated the academic workforce, he added.

Professor Conroy described UCU Scotland's figures for compulsory redundancies as "entirely wrong", adding that "conversations" were still being held with a number of individuals over voluntary redundancy terms. He defended the pools process, saying: "It is important that the faculty retain its shape going forward. We are entering a period of unprecedented change and challenge for higher education.

"The restructuring committee, chaired by the vice-principal, has been concerned to ensure that Glasgow University retains its capacity to deliver teaching and research across its activities. That is the reason, and no other, for creating the pools."

The Scottish Government's decision to cut student teacher numbers was the sole reason for the education faculty's difficulties, Professor Conroy added. "We have lost in excess of pound;1.8 million and the university has absorbed a lot of that. But we cannot sustain our level of staffing with that level of loss.

"It is a challenge, it is difficult and I am conscious we are talking about personal and professional lives."

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