Monday, June 17, 2024

Scores of jobs to go in London South Bank restructure

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Union members at London South Bank University (LSBU) have threatened strike action after the institution announced plans for a restructure that will see scores of jobs go.

The University and College Union said 297 posts at the institution have been put at risk, including almost one in five – 226 out of 1,082 – academic jobs. LSBU said that ultimately 55 full-time equivalent academic jobs were expected to go, plus an unspecified number of leadership and administrative roles. The university is also reviewing hourly-paid lecturer roles.

Under the proposals, LSBU’s eight academic schools, containing 28 divisions, will be merged into three colleges, containing 12 schools. UCU said that the respective dean, associate dean and head of division posts would be axed, and claimed that disciplines including performing arts, sport and exercise science, psychology, electrical engineering and social sciences would face “severe cuts”.

The union claimed that more than one in three professors – and three in five associate professors – could lose their jobs as soon as 8 July. It said that the university needed to make cuts because of a predicted £24 million deficit driven by a fall in international recruitment, static domestic enrolments and rising pension costs.

At an emergency branch meeting attended by more than 150 UCU members, a motion of no confidence in vice-chancellor David Phoenix and his senior management team was passed.

LSBU said that the academic job cuts were being driven by a “changing student profile. Some areas have seen a decline in student numbers whilst others have grown and require investment,” a spokesman said.

The broader restructure would “help improve collaboration, and take advantage of growth opportunities in teaching, research and innovation, while also reducing both management and support costs”, he added.

But Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, said that the cuts “would leave the institution a shell of its former self”.

“You simply cannot slash this many jobs without completely hollowing out the university’s capacity to teach and support students. Our members refuse to allow cuts of this magnitude to be forced through and have overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor and senior management team. They meet again next week, and a strike ballot could be on the cards,” Dr Grady said.

Dr Grady added that it was “also extremely concerning that the university is clearly targeting senior staff”.

“Getting rid of the most experienced academics is bad for students and would cause irreparable harm to London South Bank’s reputation. Management must now listen to staff and halt these devastating cuts,” she said.

Earlier this year it emerged that LSBU had written off £16.3 million in “bad debt” in light of “weaker repayments” on debts including tuition fees owed by overseas students, leading to a technical breach of a covenant on its bank loans. The institution reported a deficit of £16.4 million in 2022-23.

More than 50 UK universities have announced plans to make redundancies, and the English regulator, the Office for Students, has warned that stalling domestic recruitment coupled with a sharp decline in international student enrolment could plunge more than 80 per cent of English institutions into deficit in less than three years.

Professor Phoenix said: “We know that this is difficult news for colleagues to digest and we are offering a range of support to help them through this period. 

“Our priority is to ensure a better balance of staff, based on student demand, and to ensure we have a structure that allows the university to provide an excellent student experience, meet the needs of the local community and employers, and positions us for future growth.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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