Wolverhampton University came under fire last night after announcing it would axe 250 jobs out of 2,700 in an effort to tackle £8 million debts.
Union bosses said the announcement, which will mean one in 11 staff members will lose their jobs, was made after many teaching staff had already departed for annual leave.
Loraine Westcott, chairman of University and College Union (UCU) negotiating committee at Wolverhampton, said an official statement was made last Friday.
“The timing could not have been worse. To bring it out when the majority of lecturers were on annual leave meant there was little opportunity to consult with staff and the union will be unlikely to be able to consult its members until September,” she said.
Ms Westcott, a lecturer for 15 years, said present and future students would be badly affected by the high number of staff reductions. “There is a fear it may discourage others from coming to Wolverhampton if they know things may be unsettled in the next year. This is even more likely with the clearing process happening over the summer.”
Wolverhampton’s accounts for 2007-08 showed an income of £148.5 million and a deficit on continuing operations of £4.7 million. In a statement, the university said reasons for cutbacks included rising pay costs to staff, a change to funding methodologies and a cap on growth and efficiency savings required by the Government, which meant it had to take steps to balance its books and maintain its ability to invest in strategic developments.
Steps such as developing a new employer-focused curriculum for 2010, with more continuous professional development and innovation and enterprise activities to support regional businesses, were part of the university’s long-term plan to curb losses.
Part of its cuts to funding came from England’s higher education funding council (Hefce), which has told Wolverhampton University to repay £3.5 million partly because it understated its drop-out rate.
In the UK, the percentage of all entrants who started full-time undergraduate courses in 2006-07 but were no longer in higher education in 2007-08 across all subjects and qualification levels was on average 17 per cent.
Although Wolverhampton was below the national dropout level, it had a significantly higher non-continuation rate compared with universities in Birmingham. Out of all entrants 15.3 per cent dropped out compared with 11 per cent at Birmingham City University, 10.7 per cent at University College Birmingham and just 4.5 per cent at the University of Birmingham.
Ms Westcott said: “The university has a wide participation from all sections of the community and gives less able students the opportunity to get into higher education, when other universities may refuse them. Not all of them will be able to complete courses because they may not have realised how difficult it will be.”
She also blamed a discrepancy with the funding body over what constitutes a students completion of a course.
“We had regarded the completion of a course as having finished six out of eight modules, but Hefce stated all eight modules would need to have been done, although not necessarily passed.”
Hefce has conducted an audit of Wolverhampton, but said its results are not usually made public.
Meanwhile, the UCU opposes the university’s redundancy policy and is seeking a full breakdown of the university’s income and expenditure.
Ms Westcott explained: “It is simplistic to think the loss of 250 jobs will resolve the £8m deficit. Restructuring of departments over the past year were accompanied voluntary redundancies, the majority of these were senior lecturers with average salaries of £44,000.
Ms Wetscott said another meeting will be held today between the union and university to see how many staff members have been contacted.
Wolverhampton university’s vice-chancellor professor Caroline Gipps, said: “This repositioning exercise is necessary so we can realise the aims and aspirations of our strategic plan.
“The University has sufficient reserves which ensure our financial future. However it is imperative that we move as quickly as possible towards a balanced budget with a percentage for investment.”