Staff at Britain’s largest university have voted to strike over plans to axe 140 academic jobs.
On Wednesday 87% of University and College Union (UCU) members at the University of Manchester voted to strike this month, with a total of 93% backing some form of industrial action.
The union announced that strike action would take place on Monday 23 October and Tuesday 24 October, and staff would then begin working to rule from Thursday 25October. The University of Manchester branch of the UCU is the largest in the country, with just over 1,800 members.
In May, the university announced plans to axe 171 jobs, 140 of which are academic positions, saying the institution needed to invest in its “strategic priorities”.
The proposals include 35 job cuts in the school of arts, languages and cultures, 65 in the faculty of biology, medicine and health, and 40 in the Alliance Manchester business school.
The union has rejected the university’s claim that it needs to create “financial headroom” in light of an increasingly uncertain climate for universities, arguing that it is in a strong financial position. Manchester University recorded a surplus of £36m last year and its 2015-16 financial statement showed it had £1.5bn of reserves.
Despite the job cuts, the university announced that it would be hiring more than 100 new, early-career academics, prompting accusations that it was planning a “clearout” of experienced academics in order to replace them with cheaper, junior teaching staff.
The move has partly been seen as a response to the government’s new teaching excellence framework (TEF), which was launched with the intention that universities judged to have the best teaching would be permitted to raise fees. The government trialled the TEF – which awards gold, silver or bronze ratings to higher education providers – in 2016.
The UCU’s regional official, Martyn Moss, said the ballot result reflected the strength of feeling among members “who have been incensed at every aspect of these proposals to slash jobs”.
“The University of Manchester has been plunged into crisis because of a management strategy that bypassed the professionals who work in the affected areas,” he said.
“These redundancy proposals lack a convincing rationale and staff are not confident that the process will be fairly and consistently implemented. Striking is always a last resort and there is still the opportunity to avoid it.”
A spokesman for the University of Manchester said the institution was disappointed by the decision by union members. The staffing changes had been considered carefully through “an extensive consultation process” with all three of the institution’s recognised trade unions, including the UCU, he said.
“The university is committed to mitigating the need for redundancy, and in line with the security of employment policy has taken a number of steps including sourcing redeployment opportunities for ‘at risk’ staff, tight vacancy management control and offering a generous voluntary severance scheme,” he added.