An emergency motion pas-sed by the Association of University Teachers at its annual conference in Scarborough yesterday called for protests including strike ballots in the worst-hit institutions.
Lecturers accused their employers of using a recent assess-ment of universities' research performance as a cover for job losses which, in reality, were prompted by funding cuts.
Vice-chancellors were using the Research Assessment Exercise to single out some staff as poor research performers and then target them for redundancy or early retirement, the union claimed.
Early indications of proposed job cuts in UK universities - 70 of which are expected to be operating at a deficit by the end of the century - suggest the sector is facing losses on a scale not seen for a decade, with some individual institutions contemplating dozens of redundancies.
Nottingham University has prompted outrage among its academic staff by compelling lecturers to submit research plans in order to select 50 candidates for redundancy.
In Wales, where funding per student is pounds 329 per year less than in England, the University of Wales in Swansea has also met fierce opposition over proposals to axe 50 academic posts.
The AUT yesterday claimed that reducing staff on the basis of alleged poor research performance amounted to a "generalised witch hunt against academics".
It called on vice-chancellors to delay staff reviews until the publication of a report on the future of higher education by Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry. The report, due in July, is expected to set out a blueprint for university funding, including a possible recommendation of tuition fees.
Nottingham University said it had offered to delay its redundancy programme, but the AUT had declined to discuss the issue. The Dearing report was about the future size and shape of higher education rather than solving an immediate restructuring problem, it said.Reuse content