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University of Surrey staff say controversial plans to axe jobs are unjustified

7 March 2019

UCU says reasons presented for the drastic cuts are "too vague" and calls for "spectre of uncertainty" to be removed

UCU members at the University of Surrey have demanded a transparent examination of vice-chancellor Max Lu's controversial plans to axe staff in an effort to make savings. In a letter* to Professor Lu, UCU said the reasons presented for the drastic cuts are "too vague" and calls for an evidence-based case to "justify such swingeing cuts".

Professor Lu cited Brexit, a competitive student market, pensions and a review of student finance that has not been completed as reasons behind his plans. The union said in its view the business case for cuts had not been made and staff needed to have the "spectre of uncertainty" removed.

The union has demanded an assurance that no staff will be compulsorily dismissed in 2019 and that no staff on a fixed-term or hourly-paid contract will suffer a drop in hours as a result of the proposed cuts.

UCU regional official Michael Moran said: 'Staff are unconvinced by the case put forward by the university to justify these swingeing cuts. We are demanding a full transparent examination of the university's case and we want assurances in place now to remove the spectre of uncertainty hanging over staff.

'It is not good enough for a university to pluck some reasons out of the air to justify such drastic changes and provide no guarantees on jobs. The university needs to make its case with data and evidence; something it has categorically refused to do so far.'

This time last year Max Lu was making headlines for using £1,600 of university money to relocate his pet dog from Australia to the UK.

* Dear Max                          

RE: A message from the vice-chancellor 28February 2019

UCU members and the wider university community are extremely concerned at the content of your message to staff. Job security, workload and increased precarity were three of many areas highlighted at our very well attended meeting held on Monday 4 March.

The presenting reasons provided for the programme of cuts of "reduced income due to Brexit and an ever more competitive student recruitment environment, significantly increasing pension costs and a national review of tuition fee levels" are far too vague to convince staff they are necessary.

We expect a much more data-driven and evidence-based economic, technical and organisational case to justify such swingeing cuts. For this reason we expect full and meaningful consultation with the trade unions and a transparent examination of the business case over the coming period. An early meeting with Michael Kearney and Anne Poulson is therefore necessary. 

However, the main purpose of this letter, notwithstanding our view that the business case for cuts has not been made, is to seek some early assurances so that staff do not have the spectre of uncertainty hanging over them.

Firstly, you raise the issue of the potential for "compulsory redundancies". We therefore request that you provide a categorical assurance that no member of staff that UCU has bargaining rights for will be made compulsory redundant this calendar year.

Secondly, we request that no member of staff currently on a fixed-term or hourly-paid contract will suffer a detriment this calendar year as a result of the programme of cuts proposed.

Thirdly, we recognise that an EVS scheme has to fully incentivise applicants in order to reduce the risk of compulsory redundancies. As this is our paramount goal we ask that you keep the EVS application process open until at least the end of this academic year.

This would allow those considering this option the time to make financial decisions which could involve checking pension data, considering reducing hours on a permanent or temporary basis, unpaid sabbatical etc. A three-week period is not long enough for such life changing decisions nor to get the feedback required on the various options. 

Finally, a six-month period, after which an employee can be made compulsory redundant without an unsuccessful application for EVS being honoured, is far too short. We request that this period should be extended to a year after application for EVS. 

I look forward to a positive and speedy response from yourself.

Yours sincerely

Michael Moran

Regional official

Last updated: 7 March 2019