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Taking action in higher education

Unions warn strike action could be on the cards at University of Westminster in jobs row

9 February 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Trade unions representing staff at the University of Westminster have accused the institution of plucking figures from the air to try and justify a round of 'punishing and unnecessary' job cuts.

The university has officially announced plans to give 285 staff notice by the end of April as they look to reduce staff costs to a figure of 60% of total costs, described by the unions as arbitrary.

Representatives from UCU and UNISON warned that unless the university comes clean on the thinking behind the redundancy plans then they could be left with little option but to call for strike action. The funding council guidelines call for deficits to be recovered in three years, yet the university is looking to start axing staff in less than three months.

The unions have called on the university to explain the logic behind the 60% figure and to 'open the books' to provide full details of the financial situation and provide the figures to justify such drastic proposals. The University of Westminster is a teaching-intensive university so most of its costs will be related to staff costs, unlike at research-intensive universities that will have huge expenditure on equipment.
The unions are demanding to know why the redundancies have to be achieved over such a short time period and why they are being done on the basis of a projected, rather than an actual, deficit. UCU and Unison both warned that the cuts will have a negative effect on the student experience and the quality of service students can expect at the university.

Barry Jones, UCU regional official for the University of Westminster, said: 'The devastating cuts to higher education funding are no secret, despite government promises to protect education. What is less clear is the logic behind the University of Westminster's plans. Where does the random 60% staff costs figure come from? Why must redundancies be made in such a hasty fashion? Where is the long-term strategic plan? What is the real financial situation at the university? Until these questions are answered and the university opens its books nobody can have any confidence in the university's plans or actions. These cuts are both punishing and unnecessary.'

Janet Smith, UNISON representative at University of Westminster, said: 'Over the past year our members have been through one restructuring that is yet to finish. This has already caused redundancies and left staff feeling stressed and demoralised. We are now operating with a bare minimum of frontline staff and new layers of middle management. The same people responsible for the chaotic restructuring are now overseeing the redundancy plan. This does not give us any confidence that this process will be successful.'