King's College London's health schools are facing job cuts. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
Staff at King's College London (KCL) are in dispute with their university over plans to cut up to 120 jobs in the health schools to help fund buildings and equipment, amounting up to £400m.
The vast majority of jobs under threat are in the schools of medicine and biomedical sciences, and the institute of psychiatry. The university says it plans to reduce academic staff costs by 10% which could see 120 out of 777 staff in the health schools face redundancy.
Staff have been told that these cuts are a way to compensate for the changes to the funding of higher education, which have seen universities experiencing a reduction in public funding for capital projects, such as new buildings and infrastructure.
"The proposals are not about raising money for buildings alone," says a KCL spokesperson.
"The changes to the external funding environment for higher education mean that any investment we wish to make – whether to maintain the existing estate, to provide world class research facilities with cutting edge equipment, an excellent student learning environment supported by the latest technology, high-quality halls of residence, or scholarships and bursaries – we have to fund ourselves.
"Decisions have not been taken lightly, however we believe that our current proposed plan of action is the course we have to follow if we are to maintain our success in the future."
KCL says it intends to base redundancy decisions on research grant income and teaching hours, and will issue notices of dismissal by 15 August.
Peter Emery, head of the department of nutrition and dietetics in the school of medicine, has worked at KCL since 1983 and says the 18 staff working under him were now "totally demoralised and very worried".
He says: "How am I going to be able to deliver the degree programme to students if significant numbers of my staff are dismissed?
"Regularly we're told that the university is about to go heavily into the red and the only way to keep it out is to make some job cuts, then regardless of what happens the college continues to break even or make a modest surplus.
"I think this crying wolf about money doesn't have a great deal of validity. If it did, there are other projects they could be cutting without cutting staff.
University and College (UCU) members at KCL are to start voting this week on whether to take industrial action.
UCU regional official Barry Jones, says: "We are concerned that the decision by King's College to make staff redundant in favour of funding investment in buildings sets a precedent for the sector.
"Strike action is a last resort and we hope to get this dispute resolved before it comes to that. However, college management must take heed of how strongly our members feel about cutting jobs to fund buildings."
Plans to cut staff numbers has also angered students, and seen over 600 sign a petition to the college principal, Rick Trainor, to stop the redundancies.
Posting on the campaign's website, research student Raphael Underwood, writes: "As the collective pool of public funds dwindles, so do the chances for high quality science to be accomplished, ushering in a culture of myopic, money-driven research, leaving little time for teaching, supervision, or home life for all academics, particularly women.
"These redundancies are merely a symptom of this broader ideological shift towards privatisation, transforming academia into a profit-driven marketplace, rather than the rigorous pursuit of an intrinsic good: knowledge."
Lindsey Hines, chair of the institute of psychiatry's student forum, adds: "I have heard of a number of concerns from students about the knock-on effects on their supervision, funding, workload and the teaching quality at the school.
"As an aspiring researcher, I am deeply concerned about how this will affect on-going research, the reputation of KCL health schools, and what this says about the priorities of the college."
According to KCL, a further seven jobs are "at risk" in the department of education and professional studies, though the staff consultation process does not conclude until the week commencing 9 June.
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