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Strikes This Term as Staff Union Challenges Language Cuts

UCU Steps Up Attack as Management Prepares for University Court

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Strikes are likely to take place this academic term due to a successful ballot of Aberdeen UCU members on February 8th. 60% of the union’s members voted in the ballot, in which 80% supported strike action over proposed cuts in the University’s modern languages department. 

Around 30 lecturers in the department have been designated at ‘risk of redundancy’ since the 30th of November, nearly three months ago.

Due to industrial action legislation, UCU leadership were unable to reveal when strikes might occur, but the positive result means the union has a six month window in which to act. As such, it is all but guaranteed that some sort of strike action will take place before the summer holidays, and potentially as early as next month. 

Speaking to a large group of students and staff at an ‘open assembly’ last week, UCU Branch Chair Rachel Shanks said the decision to strike was not taken lightly, and that union members hoped increased pressure on University management would see the threat of redundancies dropped. 

A position paper released by the union accused University management of intentionally obscuring UoA’s financial situation. In the paper, union members called on the University Court to ‘break the silence’ and provide more information on the ongoing ‘crisis’.

The paper states: “According to our Principal, this ancient university is facing an unprecedented crisis which necessitates cuts which will destroy the livelihoods of long-serving university staff and impoverish the education of our students.

“Although AUCU has made multiple requests for finance and planning

data since October 2023, we are met with silence.”

The paper claimed that a £88.6 million cash balance and £2.8 million surplus this year demonstrates the University’s healthy financial position. 

“Whilst it is undeniable that operating costs have increased and that income from both home and international students have marginally decreased, neither have collapsed to such a degree that staff must be dismissed.”

University management furiously hit back at the paper’s claims, slamming the union for presenting ‘misleading’ data. 

A UoA spokesperson told The Gaudie: 

University leaders met with local and national UCU representatives on Monday and asked them to correct the misleading presentation of the University’s financial position. Reports of a projected cash surplus for 2023/24 do not represent the underlying financial position for the University. Non-cash items such as depreciation must be considered when assessing the financial position. 

“This results in a projected £12m deficit this year. Spending more than we earn is not a sustainable position for the University, hence the need for a Financial Recovery Plan.”

In response, an Aberdeen UCU spokesperson said: 

“AUCU, of course, acknowledges that the “underlying financial position” is forecasting a deficit. We don’t accept the need to fix that problem by throwing long-serving staff out on the street. University managers are not being transparent with staff and students here.  We pay our staff month by month. Therefore, the £2.8M operating cash surplus demonstrates that we have the means to do so in the medium term.

“Finance categories such as “depreciation” are important too – but they are to be understood over decades. It is as if you choose not to feed your family because you automatically put aside a few hundred pounds every month into a savings account to renovate the house.

“The way to reconcile medium and long-term goals is to sit down and discuss them – not make threats of compulsory redundancy.  We call on the senior managers to share up-to-date information both on the financial position, and on the cash position, and to stop the threats of compulsory redundancy.”

The war of words is expected to escalate in the runup to a meeting of the University Court on the 28th of February, where members will be asked to sign off on a ‘financial recovery plan’ proposed by senior management. 

It remains unclear what measures are a part of this plan, but Principal George Boyne has promised University staff he is doing ‘everything possible’ to prevent mandatory layoffs. 

In an email, the Vice Chancellor laid out a number of steps taken by management: 

He said: “The financial support for the enhanced retirement scheme and voluntary severance, the continuing staff recruitment freeze, the operational savings, and the rigorous strategic drive to generate extra income across the full range of sources all show that we are doing absolutely everything possible to prevent compulsory redundancies.”


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