This article first appeared on DUSA Media.
University principal Professor Pete Downes has confirmed the University will set up a severance scheme to reduce academic staff and defended the losses as necessary for Dundee’s 25-year plan to become Scotland’s leading university.
“We are proposing that we open a voluntary severance scheme for academic staff,” Downes said. “And we’re also proposing a small change management programme in one area of the University, which will lead to a small number – probably no more than about ten – [of] staff losses.” He added, “It would be disingenuous to say that it’s our intention that that’s where that ends.”
The Courier reported earlier this week the University was looking to cut 150 academic staff. While stating that The Courier’s article contained “inaccuracies”, Downes said it would not be appropriate for him to discuss how many employees and which academic programmes will be affected by the plans.
The University Court, the governing body responsible for staff and finance matters, will consider the scheme during its meeting on Monday. Although the Court might issue a statement after that meeting, crucial details will likely not be available until April.
Explaining why the University’s senior management considered the cuts necessary, Downes said: “We always envisaged that [the vision] would require us to do some quite difficult things … in part financially, to support investment in the most important areas of the University.”
He added, “The aim and purpose of what we’re trying to do is to ensure that the University can invest in its future.”
Downes, along with Professor Karl Leydecker, the vice-principal for learning and teaching, and Dr. Jim McGeorge, the University secretary, addressed a special meeting of the Student Representative Council (SRC) on Tuesday night. Originally scheduled to update student representatives about the University’s progress in implementing its vision, the meeting was overshadowed by The Courier article.
In his presentation, Downes focused on the University’s efforts to improve the student experience as a key part of the “Transformation” strategy. He said the institution already benefits from the “excellent reputation” of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA), and that both sides are working to further strengthen their partnership.
Downes said the University wanted to increase the subvention with which it supports DUSA, and was working on improving the availability of timetables. He also said further investment in the Library and more space for DUSA’s Premier shop were among the plans for the near future.
In the discussion following the presentation, student representatives were mostly critical of the University’s plan to reduce staff. They pointed out that current students are unlikely to benefit from the long-term vision while feeling its drawbacks now, that prospective students could shy away from accepting a place at Dundee in the light of recent news, and that many staff members already put in extra hours to get their work done.
Downes defended the plans, saying that the cuts would be accompanied by reviewing whether curricula could be simplified and workloads redistributed. “There are clear areas where [the University’s] performance is significantly less than … the other institutions with which we compare ourselves.”
“If we look at the income that our staff generate, and divide that by the number of academic staff, we are a long way below our nearest competitors. So we’re being unproductive in certain respects,” Downes said. He singled out research income and attracting students from overseas as areas in which the University was below the benchmarks.
Leydecker added, “There are some areas where we don’t have enough staff. We need to be able to release some resource to make those investments and improve the student experience and the support environment that we have. We can’t do that at the moment because we don’t have the headroom to do it.”
The two Court members elected by students – DUSA President Iain MacKinnon and an Independent Court Member Marija Tasevska – did not comment during the SRC meeting. Both are bound by the body’s confidentiality rules.
DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you already knew that. The author is an SRC member.