Warwick UCU questions the legal basis of academic redundancies

UCU representatives have questioned the whole case for redundancies in WMS and SLS and the selection criteria that have been used. We notified the management that we are taking advice from our lawyers with a view to a legal challenge.

In our view the university is sacrificing academic standards for the sake of mindless HR process, and consequently doing immense damage to science.

As has previously been reported, academics (with certain exceptions) are being selected according to a single criterion: the amount of research grant income they have brought in in the four-year period up to last term. This criterion is being applied absolutely rigidly in order that management can argue selection has been objective – which is a clear legal requirement.

However it is in fact arbitrary because it ignores the overriding consideration that the pool of employees selected must relate to the reason for the proposed redundancy. It fails to comply with ACAS guidelines which state: “Organisations need to choose criteria which will help maintain a workforce that can best support their future needs …” Although employers enjoy considerable flexibility in their choice of selection pool, they nevertheless have to be able to provide evidence of sound business judgement having been exercised. We are arguing that Warwick HR department and the PVC overseeing it (Professor Tim Jones) have signally failed to do that. They are proposing to dismiss many academics who would –  by normal standards – be seen as an asset to the university – even when viewed in purely financial terms. Some of those selected would be regarded as outstanding researchers and world class scientists.

HR and Professor Jones have considered only one source of research funding: external grants. In UK universities research is supported by a dual-funding system : core research is paid for through the funding council (via the QR formula) and programme/project research is paid for by grants awarded competitively by the research councils and charitable foundations. If the university management seeks to make a business case for redundancy on a purely financial basis, that must take account of QR funding – which is considerable for many of the staff concerned – in addition to grants.

Many of the academics whose work was rated at 3-star or better in the 2008 RAE can justifiably claim to have contributed to the financial success of the university sufficiently to have raised enough in QR funding to pay for their research over the four-year period. Likewise research that was rated 3-stars in the REF would be expected to bring in QR funding in the future.

To see this, consider the figures for 2014/15.

The QR element of the HEFCE funding formula reflects the RAE quality ratings directly, the exact amount depending on the Unit of Assessment (i.e. subject). A 3-star publication in Life Sciences (UoA Biological Sciences) attracts funding of £10,530 per year, and a 4-star publication three times that, £31,592. So an academic with four outputs rated 3-star can justifiably claim to have brought in research funding of £42,123. One with three papers rated 3-star and one 4-star will thus have been responsible for QR income of £63,184. One with four 4-star papers will have brought in £126,369.

In the Medical School four 3-star publications in the UoA Other Hospital Based Clinical Subjects are worth £32,343 per year in 2014/15. Non-laboratory-based research attracts lower QR funding. For example in UoA Education an academic with four 3-star publications could reasonably claim to have brought in £18,301. This funding covers a substantial part if not all of the research component of a salary of an academic whose duties include teaching and administration as well as research.

If selection for redundancy is to be made on the grounds of whether or not their research time was financed then it should take account of all sources of finance that can be directly attributed to them and not just external research grants. It has to be said also that for many academics external research grant funding is not essential and QR core finance is sufficient for them to be able to produce research that is internationally excellent or better.

Many if not most of the 20 academics in WMS ‘at risk’, and those who have been selected in Life Sciences, contributed to either or both the 2008 RAE and also the 2014 REF.

At the meeting the UCU also made the case that focussing on research grants alone both is unfair and does not relate to the business case in another sense. Selection is being made on the basis that academics must have succeeded in being awarded the specified minimum amount in grants over an arbitrary four-year window. Yet our evidence strongly suggests that NO academic would be able to satisfy the criterion for EVERY four-year period in their career, even those who have had the most success. We therefore question whether this criterion is truly objective or simply blind, or of benefit to the university in the long term.

Finally we reiterated that we do not accept there is a financial case for academic redundancies. The departmental deficits are due to excessive spending on central university activities that are often of questionable benefit to the academic work of the departments.

Newsletter – Christmas 2014

Headlines in this edition include:

  • Redundancies at Warwick – Who’s next?
  • WMS – Why everyone is under threat!
  • Where’s the merit in merit pay?
  • A sigh is just a sigh……
  • UCU success on performance management guidelines
  • What’s in a name?  (100 citations, as a matter of fact)

UCU Newsletter Christmas 2014

Academic Redundancies in WMS/SLS

The union has issued a press statement about the job losses in WMS with an online petition to the VC:


Also the THE magazine have published a letter from Dennis Leech, current branch president:


We are also aware that Warwick is following Imperial in a policy that is so unfair as to threaten the careers and well being of individuals who are in all other respects successful and productive scientists. We think that you should be aware, if you have not seen them already, of the press stories about the sad death of an outstanding scientist as a result of this.


Cuts in the School of Life Sciences at Warwick: Statement by Warwick UCU

The university management has announced a plan to dismiss up to 16 members of the academic staff in the School of Life Sciences on the basis of rigid research income metrics. This comes only four years after a major restructuring of biological sciences.

The UCU does not accept the need for job losses and will never agree to compulsory redundancies as long as the institution is solvent.

The UCU believes:

  • There is not a redundancy situation in the usual sense. Redundancy means posts are no longer needed. But these cuts will be made by the – retrospective – application of a single mechanical performance metric: an average of £75k per year per member of staff in research grants awarded over the past four years (or alternatively £150k pa as Co-I). We regard this as collective performance management not supported by job descriptions rather than redundancy.
  • The university of Warwick has a healthy surplus.
  • The departmental deficit in SLS against plans is the result of overoptimistic, unrealisable targets and very large payments for central services including bloated administration, spending on non-academic priorities and campus capital developments.
  • SLS has been baldy mismanaged in the four years since its creation. The university senior management must take responsibility for appointing the head of department responsible for this shambles.
  • Staff should not be made to pay with their careers for management failings.
  • The expectation that staff raise a fixed amount of external funding as individuals as a condition of employment in an academic role is a wholly new requirement that threatens academics not only in SLS but in all departments across the university.
  • A policy of requiring staff to conform, individually, to arbitrary metrics, is unjust, undermines the idea of a university as a community, making academic work risky without the reward to go with the risk. Many able graduate students are increasingly thinking twice about an academic career. This will do long term damage to universities in the UK which are among the best in the world.
  • The dismissal of academic staff who are engaged in teaching in the middle of the academic year will do immense harm to the student experience and damage the reputation of Warwick university.

We call on management to withdraw the threat of compulsory redundancies.

Dennis Leech
Branch President