A poorer performance puts 50 jobs at risk

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The Independent Online
The biggest row over the results of the research assessment exercise is going on at Nottingham University, which found itself one of the poorer performers among the long-established universities when the results of the 1996 RAE were published. The Association of University Teachers is threatening to take the university to an industrial tribunal over its attempts to remove up to 50 staff, essentially on the grounds that they are not up to scratch on research.

Professor Lawrie Challis, pro vice-chancellor for staffing, says that the university faces the same financial problems as the whole of higher education. But because it has traditionally had a generous staff-student ratio, cuts this time inevitably mean redundancies, which will be voluntary as far as possible.

The point of contention between the university and its academic staff is the criterion for redundancy and how it is measured: under-performance. Research performance will be crucial, and although some staff may be offered the chance to concentrate on teaching, numbers of such posts will be limited, Prof Challis says.

Sandi Golbey, the AUT's local secretary, says that staff have been asked to produce two-year research plans which might expect to gain a Grade 4 rating. The unions argue that this is an unacceptable hurdle, especially as there is no obligation on universities to enter all staff in the assessment exercise. They would like much greater weight to be given to teaching excellence and/or administration.

"Departments and staff are being pushed into research for fear of the consequences. People are being accused of "under-performing" and being in breach of their contracts solely on the basis of their research potential. This is detrimental to teaching and to pastoral care, and the people who are going to suffer are the students," Sandi Gobey says.