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Capital university crisis as staff at University of Westminster and UCL join list of London universities voting for strike action

21 April 2010

Members of UCU at the University of Westminster and University College London (UCL), have today voted in favour of both strike action and action short of a strike in their fights to save jobs.

At Westminster 63% of UCU members who voted, voted for strike action and 85% voted for action short of a strike. At UCL 61% of UCU members who voted, voted for strike action and 64% voted for action short of a strike.
The news comes as UCU members at the University of Arts London (UAL) look likely to ballot for industrial action and less than a month after staff at King's College went on strike. The union said that today's results were indicative of the strength of feeling among UCU members across the country over savage funding cuts and damaging job losses. Nearly 300 jobs are at risk at the University of Westminster, while University College London (UCL) is engaged in making £20m of cuts across the board.
In an historically unprecedented move in 186 years of its history, UCL is seeking the redundancy of 10% of its academics in the Faculty of Life Sciences, while simultaneously engaging in cuts in support staff elsewhere, including in the libraries and other student services. UCU has accused both institutions of acting in bad faith and failing to justify the need for cuts.
The University of Westminster has announced plans to get rid of 285 posts as it tries to reduce staff costs to 60% of total costs; a figure the union says has been plucked from the air. Westminster is a teaching-intensive university where staff costs make up a higher percentage of costs than a research-intensive institution.
The sector average spend on staff costs in 2008/09 was 57%, so the Westminster figure of 60% would be low for a teaching-intensive institution. UCU also wants 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 says UCL has offered no financial justification for making the cuts and has accused management of failing to consult meaningfully over avoiding redundancies. UCL reported a financial income of £731m in 2009-10 and recently raised more than £100m from alumni and others in its 'Campaign for UCL'.
The nature and timing of industrial action will become much clearer in the next few days as members at the universities meet to discuss next steps.
Sean Wallis, UCU branch secretary at UCL, said: 'There may be a global recession but UCL is, in its own words, 'booming'. UCL increased its income by one-eighth - 12.25% - over the last year. The provost told the trade unions that UCL is on track to make a surplus of £7m this year. These are cuts of choice, not necessity, and management could end the dispute tomorrow.

'UCL is a world-leading university. It is our staff who make it great. It is a scandal that politicians seek to cut higher education in a recession, leaving hundreds of thousands of young people with no job or university place. But it adds insult to injury for a university in full bloom to be attacking its staff in this way.'
Peter McLoughlin, UCU branch secretary at Westminster, said: 'We are delighted and energised by the excellent ballot result and we call on management to now talk seriously about the ways in which redundancies can be avoided at Westminster.
'Management's decision to seek a 10% cut in staff before July has never been justified by any of the figures they have produced and savings could be made over a longer period without making people redundant. Management's actions are totally unnecessary, especially in light of the recent admission that they have £53m in the bank.'
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Members at Westminster and UCL have the union's full support. These cuts will have a damaging impact on students and the quality of service they can expect from the institutions. Getting rid of staff and distinguished departments will come back and haunt the universities.'
Last updated: 11 December 2015