Plans to cut as many as 40 jobs at the University of Kent have been branded “appalling and cynical” by workers’ rights campaigners.
Proposals to slash the number of hourly-paid lecturers (HPLs) on casual contracts across nine departments at the campuses in Canterbury and Medway have come to light this week.
The shake-up puts 60 jobs at risk, with those made redundant competing for 20 new salaried posts.
It follows a “pilot” carried out earlier this year across four departments, including English and law, which led to 77 casual workers being made redundant and 21 others being offered salaried roles.
The university, which employs an estimated 800 HPLs in a range of teaching and lecturing roles, says the latest proposals will provide “a firmer guarantee of academic continuity”.
But staff who have long-argued for more secure contracts say such changes should not result in redundancies.
A spokesman for Precarious@KentUni, which campaigns on behalf of casual workers, said: “On principle, we oppose compulsory redundancies and the fact that this is being sold as an ‘anti-casualisation’ project is particularly appalling and cynical.
“A transition to better contracts does not require any redundancies.
“Overall, it seems that spending money on shiny new buildings is more important than spending it on teaching staff.”
“Overall, it seems that spending money on shiny new buildings is more important than spending it on teaching staff...” - Precarious@KentUni spokesman
Another member of staff, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “While the university’s reliance on exploitative contracts to do much of its teaching must end, making many of this already poorly-treated workforce redundant seems a particularly cruel way of doing this.”
As well as the 77 who lost their jobs in the spring, an undisclosed number of staff within the School of Music and Fine Art were also made redundant this year as a result of the department’s closure.
Dr Owen Lyne, a statistics lecturer and branch secretary of the University of Kent’s University and College Union, said that the union is also opposed to a sudden reduction in headcount.
“What we have been arguing over the last few years is for staff to be given security over the hours they have got,” he said.
“Let’s say they have got five hours. You could make that a permanent part-time contract, and as and when that person leaves, if you want to give those hours to someone else you can.
“You don’t have to get there in one go. You don’t have to force this to happen in 2019.
“We are waiting to see what these 20 new jobs look like. We need to see the detail of the business cases and then talk to the relevant colleagues.
“People will certainly want to scrutinise, for example, if they are creating enough jobs to get the work done.”
University spokesman Dan Worth said: “The university is in the process of reviewing the make-up of its academic workforce, including the reliance placed on hourly-paid lecturers, in order to help provide a firmer guarantee of academic continuity, better student experience and stronger, more flexible academic communities.
“There are no firm proposals as yet, but early indications suggest that as a result of the review approximately 20 new salaried academic posts will be created.
"These new positions will initially be ring-fenced to approximately 60 hourly-paid lecturing staff in the relevant schools within the university.
“While every effort will be made to find alternative positions for staff who are not successful in applying for these new roles, we regret that there is likely to be a requirement for some redundancies among that group of 60 staff.
“The university is committed to working with the relevant trades unions and staff representatives to try to avoid or mitigate the effects of any redundancies and will be consulting formally on any proposals in the New Year.”