Manchester is the latest university in the UK to announce mass job cuts, citing the uncertainty caused by Brexit as a factor. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
The University of Manchester has been accused of planning a “clearout” of experienced academics in order to replace them with cheaper, junior teaching staff, after it announced plans to cut 171 jobs.
Britain’s largest university said the prospect of Brexit had created uncertainty in the higher education sector and the cuts were designed to “secure future financial sustainability”.
But the University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and researchers, argued that Manchester’s finances were in good health and suggested the move had come in response to the new teaching excellence framework (TEF), which will allow universities with the best teaching to raise fees.
In an email sent to staff, the university said that despite the job cuts, it would continue to make “strategic investments”, including the creation of more than 100 new, early-career academic appointments. The faculties of arts, languages, biology, medicine and business most vulnerable to the planned redundancies.
Martyn Moss, UCU regional official for the north-west, said early assessments of the plans suggested the university wanted to get rid of more expensive, senior academics. “I think they want to shake it up and have a clearout,” he said.
“The whole question of them bringing in a significant number of early years academics at a similar time raises real questions about the genuineness of the redundancies and whether they would be fair dismissals.”
A spokesman for the university confirmed it was planning to recruit more than 100 junior academics, but did not comment on the allegation that the appointments would fill gaps left by redundancies.
Manchester is the latest higher education institution to announce mass job cuts, with many citing the uncertainty caused by Brexit as a contributory factor.
This week alone it was reported that 150 jobs were at risk at Aberystwyth University, while Bangor University warned unions that cuts were to come and the University of Sunderland said compulsory redundancies were probable as part of its cost-cutting drive.
Over the past few months, about 100 jobs were predicted to go at Heriot-Watt University, the University of Kent announced the closure of its school of music and fine art and Manchester Metropolitan University said it would close its campus in Crewe, threatening 160 posts.
The University of Manchester recorded a £59.7m surplus for the year in 2015-16, after a £19.6m deficit the year before, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The university’s financial statement revealed it had reserves totalling almost £1.5bn, of which £430m was cash.
Manchester wants to cut 140 academic jobs and 31 professional support roles, according to the UCU. It is thought that the school of arts, languages and cultures (SALC) will see 35 posts cut. The faculty of biology, medicine and health is expected to lose 65 academic posts, and 40 jobs are to go at the Alliance Manchester Business School.
Academics whose jobs are under threat said the decision to cut 140 academic posts in certain departments was because of worries about university league tables and the ability to increase tuition fees.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an academic at SALC echoed USC’s claim that the university was seeking to get rid of experienced staff in favour of cheaper, “hungrier” young ones.
“This sort of practice may be common in the corporate world but it is extremely rare in universities,” he said. “They have broken an unspoken moral contract that it isn’t going to act like a corporate firm. It is going to change the tone very markedly. Manchester University never used to be a business.”
The academic said the university was “paranoid” about theintroduction of the TEF this September, which will mark institutions on teaching quality, learning environment, as well as student satisfaction and post-study employability. Universities and colleges with a successful TEF award will be able to increase fees for full-time courses, in line with inflation.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the TEF would leave academics who are neither judged to be excellent teachers nor excellent researchers vulnerable to job cuts.
“In the past, universities have only really been held to account for the quality of their research, they haven’t really been held to account for the quality of their teaching,” said Hillman, who worked as a special adviser to the former universities minister David Willetts.
“Universities aren’t going to be getting rid of top notch researchers because they bring prestige and money. They’re also going to be very unlikely, in future, to get rid of people with a very good track record of teaching.”
Hillman said he could not speak specifically about the situation in Manchester because he was one of the university’s governors.