Serious Cuts and Stark Choices at Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen is attempting to cut £10.5 million from its expenditures for the 2015-16 academic year, and they are starting with faculty and staff. It aims to cut 150 positions, according to an email sent to faculty and staff from new Senior Vice Principal Jeremy Kilburn, provided to me from a source at the university who prefers to remain anonymous. The same email gives faculty the following offer:

The voluntary severance scheme is available now for a period of sixteen weeks until 10 July 2015 and offers the opportunity for early retirement, voluntary severance or a combination of both.  On the basis of staff leaving the university by 31 July 2015 the terms available are:
a) voluntary severance on the basis of one month’s salary for each year of continuous service at the University of Aberdeen up to a maximum of one year’s salary;
b) early retirement with the option of enhancement subject to a financial limit equivalent to a maximum of one year’s salary.

The email does not specify what will happen if an insufficient number of faculty and staff volunteer for the program. My correspondent writes:

if it does not reach that [£10.5 million] figure (and, clearly, it is very unlikely to happen), I guess the plan is to opt for compulsory redundancies [i.e., firings], targeting in particular staff from those Schools and Departments that don’t share or meet the criteria imposed by the University ‘vision’ – as they call it. Several Departments within the Humanities will be the natural first targets of the compulsory redundancy proposal.

Of course the University is trying to be cautious, avoiding giving details of what would happen if the goal were not met within the next few months. But they wouldn’t have sent this email if they were not sure about where to go. The University is in financial trouble and this needs to be fixed. The way university administrators think is best is to get rid of some academic staff members – especially those who don’t share the ‘University Vision’! I think that if this is the plan it is outrageous – and there should be discussion of this within academia in order to prevent it.

The Senior Vice Principle concludes the email by saying that “We will do the very best we can to maintain and develop those areas which are essential for our moving us towards our shared vision of a competitive research led and distinctive university with a student experience of outstanding quality.”

UPDATE: An email was sent by the University and College Union (UCU) a few days ago, including the following:

On Friday 20th March Aberdeen UCU were called to a meeting with the new Senior Vice-Principal, Prof Jeremy Kilburn, HR Director, Mrs Debbie Dyker, and other campus trade unions to be told of a paper on voluntary severance going to Court on Tuesday 24th March. The paper also made provision for the use of compulsory redundancies if the savings target of £10.5 million in 2015/16 was not met – this equates to 150 senior lecturer posts.  Court did not give approval on all components of the paper, in particular they did not approve the recommendation for compulsory redundancies.  University management still anticipate launching a voluntary severance scheme and are currently finalising the details. We will keep you posted.

What this message reveals is that the administration does indeed plan to fire people if the voluntary scheme does not work. The university court rejected this plan, but my correspondent reports that it is believed that the administration will resubmit it and that it will get approved.

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