Birmingham UCU calls off strike as University takes redundancies off the table

June 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Birmingham UCU calls off strike as University takes redundancies off the table

University of Birmingham academic and related staff called off their threatened strike today as the University management eventually withdrew its proposal to make staff in Modern Languages redundant.

This brings to an end a round of compulsory redundancies that were threatened in Modern Languages, Neuroscience and Pharmacology, Engineering, and Hydrogeology – all now concluded without any compulsory redundancies. It also marks what the union hopes will be a new approach to any future restructuring at the University.

Roland Brandstaetter, UCU Birmingham branch president, said, “This represents a huge victory for our branch. The University of Birmingham has pursued a series of reorganisations, all coming with proposed compulsory redundancies, over the past 12 months, which exposed over 100 members of staff to the health risks associated with the biggest work-related stress factor that there is – that of losing their jobs. We are glad that the University has now taken these proposals off the table and we hope that we can prevent any such job and health-threatening proposals in the future.”

For more details contact Roland Brandstaetter, University of Birmingham UCU Branch President: rolandbrandstaetterrb[@]

BUCU statement on University of Birmingham governance

April 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is now over a week since we called for a full investigation into the financial affairs of the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Lord Bilimoria. We remain very concerned about the reputation of the University of Birmingham. Despite several messages from the University management about the apparently “challenging environment for the sector” – no mention whatsoever has been made of the fact that Lord Bilimoria has been the subject of considerable discussion in the international media, as a result of his connections with offshore tax havens.

It is starting to look as if this so-called “challenging environment” is simply something that is conveniently referred to whenever staff seek to maintain their existing pay rates in the face of ongoing inflation – regardless of the University’s earnings or ability to pay – or whenever the University feels a justification for proposed redundancies is needed. In his most recent e-mail our Vice-Principal refers to “increased costs from this year due to pensions (£3.5m a year), National Insurance (£4.4m a year), the apprenticeship levy (£1.5m a year) and for work permits for overseas staff (£182k a year)”, all of which sum up to about £10M, i.e. only about 20% of last year’s surplus, and allowing for a £15-20M investment in a new hotel and conference centre.

A quick google search for Lord Bilimoria reveals that his offshore company – Mulberry Holdings – is a company related to the fallout of his bankrupted earlier company, Cobra Beer. It appears that Lord Bilimoria himself earned £3.2 million in dividends from that company, at the same time as it was about to go bankrupt!

The University’s recent actions, and silences, raise a number of questions that need to be answered:

  • Why has the University of Birmingham issued no statement on the financial affairs of its own Chancellor, despite being the only university chancellor in the country to be exposed by the Panama Papers leak?
  • Why was Lord Bilimoria considered to be a suitable leader of this University in the first place? Who made this decision, and according to what criteria?
  • If we face such a “challenging environment”, then why do we have a Vice Chancellor earning £416,000 per year, one of the highest in the country? Why was our most recent operating surplus £45 million? Why is the average salary of UEB members £145,000?

We would like to encourage you to vote in both of the current UCU ballots ongoing at present – on local industrial action on redundancies, and on national industrial action on pay.


BUCU statement on Lord Bilimoria, University of Birmingham Chancellor

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

It has become apparent that Lord Bilimoria, the University of Birmingham’s Chancellor, has recently been exposed for having connections with one of the offshore tax havens detailed in the recent “Panama Papers” leaks.

This has resulted in national and international press coverage and raises extremely serious questions about the Chancellor’s financial operations.

Guardian coverage here

Coverage in student paper, The Tab, here

BUCU are absolutely opposed to the use of offshore tax havens, or the support of their use, as a means of undermining the tax revenues of the national government. Indeed, in a time when we are constantly reminded of the need for austerity, it absolutely beggars belief that a leading member of this university appears to have actively contributed to the dwindling of government resources.

That such a development should occur at the University of Birmingham also raises serious questions that go the heart of the operation of this university. We have one of the highest paid vice-chancellors in the country; and now it seems we have the only university chancellor in the country that is exposed by the Panama Papers leak. It is absolutely unacceptable to run a university in a way that shows concern only for private individual gain, profit, and status, without concern for scientific progress or the contribution that higher education can make to wider society.

BUCU notes that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Singmundur Gunnlaugsson, has been forced to resign as a result of the same leaks, despite his claims that he was not personally implicated. Indeed, the very business of tax havens is such that arms-length associations are a means by which direct personal involvement is concealed.

BUCU calls for a full investigation into Lord Bilimoria’s financial affairs, and for an end to any association between this University and the shadowy world of tax havens and offshore finance which threatens to damage the reputation of all who work here.

BUCU committee


Birmingham University faces ongoing term-time strikes

March 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Angered by unnecessary redundancies and management’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful negotiations, academic staff at the University of Birmingham recently voted overwhelmingly to hold a ballot for strike action that would seriously disrupt teaching for all students from September 2016 onwards.


The vote follows an ongoing series of job losses that have been proposed by the University, with job cuts in the areas of Engineering, Neuroscience/Pharmacology, Hydrogeology, and Modern Languages.

Over the last 12 months, more than 100 members of staff have been put at risk of redundancy. More than 100 members of staff have been exposed to the threat of losing their jobs.

This is despite the University paying over £400K in salary to its VC, and reporting a £45m surplus in its most recent annual accounts.

The academic staff union, UCU, has repeatedly encouraged the University to find alternatives to what are widely believed to be unnecessary job losses. However, the intransigence of the University management position is such that academic staff members have been forced to consider the option of ongoing strike action.

If the ballot produces a yes vote, which all indicative polling suggests is very likely, then this could lead to significant disruption to the teaching and learning of students at the University of Birmingham.

A UCU spokesperson said, “These job losses are entirely unnecessary and threaten the quality of teaching at the University of Birmingham. The strike action that has been suggested could be entirely avoided if only the University management would enter into reasonable discussions with its own staff. However, sadly this has not been the case so far and we have therefore been left with the proposal for strike action as our only option”.

More details can be found here:

Can you feel the love?

February 11, 2016 § Leave a comment


A few days after the announcement of the next 32 members of staff at risk of redundancy, now in the department of Modern Languages, members of BUCU, the recognised trade union for academic and academic-related staff at the University of Birmingham, organised another protest action.

This time, in honour of the forthcoming Valentine ’s Day, the theme was “Can you feel the love?” The protestors met at the stairs of the main library to split into groups which were walking towards the affected departments of Engineering, Neuroscience and Pharmacology in the Medical School, Hydrogeology in Geography and Earth Sciences, and Modern Languages, while distributing leaflets and flyers.



At present, about 90 staff members from 4 different units are at risk of redundancy at the University of Birmingham. At least 26 of them will lose their jobs.

“We cannot see any economic or acceptable academic reasons for these redundancies” said a BUCU spokesperson. “The University made a surplus of £ 45M last year and pays the Vice-Chancellor an annual salary of £410,000. This would pay the salaries of the English and the French prime ministers.”


A BUCU official said: “We surely cannot feel the love of our employer who claims to care about us and to make important things happen at our University. It seems the only important thing the Vice-Chancellor wants to make happen is the dismissal of staff who worked very hard for our University for many years. Some of the individuals at risk of redundancy have worked at the University for more than 30 years and some are world-renowned high achievers in their fields.”

BUCU members will decide in their next members meeting whether to ballot for industrial action. The branch has already decided to ballot for continuous industrial action as a last resort if the University does not change direction. The branch president, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, said: “We cannot see an end of this avalanche of proposed redundancies. Every few months, the University adds another unit. While we are negotiating on the avoidance of redundancies more and more individuals are added to the list of proposed dismissals. We are exhausting all negotiation options and soon we will have no other choice left than to ballot for industrial action. The stress levels staff members are exposed to are not acceptable any longer. I am seriously worried about the wellbeing of staff at the University of Birmingham.”


December 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

On Wednesday 9th December an estimated 120 staff and students of the University of Birmingham united and assembled outside the University campus for a silent protest to express their concerns and dissent.

At the beginning of the event, the president of the recognised trade union for academic and academic-related staff BUCU, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, summarised the aim of the protest event by saying “We protest against – un-negotiated strategy/policy documents such as the new 2015-20 strategy of the VC which  is now used to justify compulsory redundancies – REF-related metrics to justify staff dismissals -any compulsory redundancies as long as the University is overspending on facilities and senior management salaries, including the VC’s >£400K salary – the silent killing of academic freedom by unilaterally eliminating research fields from the University portfolio – the destruction of distinctiveness and research diversity as exemplified by Neuroscience and Pharmacology in CMDS which has been reduced to one research topic, Engineering in EPS which has been reduced to only three research topics and the proposed complete elimination of Hydrogeology in LES – and finally, the most recent “4* or out policy.”

Following this acclaimed announcement, the protestors passed the following resolution to be forwarded to senior management:

“This group of protestors, including staff and students of the University of Birmingham, rejects compulsory redundancies at the University of Birmingham. We call on the University management to abide by the existing agreement on the avoidance of compulsory redundancies with the recognised trade union for academic and academic-related staff BUCU and fully refrain from compulsory redundancies as long as the University pays the highest salaries to their senior academic staff in the country, pays a <£400K salary to its VC, and as long the annual surplus of the University allows multi-million investments in facilities and buildings. We call on the University to enter into negotiations with BUCU in order to i) establish ways alternative to staff dismissals to achieve future goals, ii) review and revise their spending policy and remuneration policy of senior managerial staff, and ii) immediately suspend all nonessential spending in order to save jobs from being lost. We call on the University to retract from their un-negotiated disinvestment policy and to refrain from any future proposals of compulsory redundancies.”

This was followed by a one minute silence to mourn the silent killing of academic freedom at the University of Birmingham and the job losses due to compulsory redundancies.

The protest ended with the release of 100 helium-filled balloons with “UoB, STOP sacking people” printed on them.


Resolution to retain the BUCU performance management resolution

January 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

Following a prolonged internal debate within BUCU, which was prompted by complaints by the University management over BUCU’s approach to reviewing allegations of unreasonable management behaviour, the following resolution was resoundingly adopted on 21 January 2014. This resolution re-affirms the earlier resolution adopted in November 2013.
This branch resolves that:
· It is free to decide its own internal review procedures, and that these cannot be dictated to it by the University of Birmingham senior management.
This branch notes that:
· Only months after agreeing its performance management agreement, the University of Birmingham management vigorously defended, in an Employment Tribunal, what turned out to be the unfair dismissal of Thelma Lovick, and that Thelma Lovick has not been re-instated despite the University’s decision to sack her being widely condemned by the Employment Tribunal.
· In the very first departmental restructure undertaken since the adoption of our Redundancy Avoidance Agreement, we also saw the first instance in at least ten years where departmental restructuring happened with compulsory redundancies – and that this witnessed serious questions raised by BUCU about the behaviour of the University HR staff – and that BUCU were unable to challenge or avoid that redundancy.
· On REF Day, December 2014, David Eastwood has already begun talking in his University-wide communications about“disappointing” results and “areas for improvement” – and that given the record of Eastwood’s time as Vice Chancellor to date, we do not anticipate a constructive approach to dealing with those ‘disappointments’ or towards those individuals considered by the University management to have under-performed in the REF.
· Only days after BUCU last suspended its resolution on performance management, it was forced to un-suspend the resolution in the light of further complaints from members about their treatment by the University.
· No BUCU members who have gone through the procedures set out in the performance management resolution have complained about the procedures or sought for them to be changed.
· The only complaint received about the performance management resolution is that of the University senior management.
· That reassurances made by the University management following our last local industrial dispute – that there would be a more cooperative attitude by the University of Birmingham senior management, in terms of its approach to performance management, department restructuring, and redundancies – have so far not resulted in improved working conditions for BUCU members or of any staff working at the University of Birmingham.
· That recent events have shown the difficulties BUCU faces in supporting Employment Tribunal claims by staff members who are dismissed by the University, and that the possibility of making ET claims often do not anyway deter attempts to deal with staff through suggestions of disciplinary action and offers of ‘voluntary’ severance.
· That the main mechanism that we have through which to challenge unfair and aggressive management actions is our ability to highlight and publicise unfair and unreasonable management practices, shining a spotlight on malpractices that would otherwise be carried out behind closed doors.
The branch therefore re-affirms its commitment to the performance management resolution adopted in 2013, in particular the commitment to create an independent panel of BUCU members to investigate alleged instances of poor management behaviour in the field of performance management, for that panel to produce a report to be presented to a general members’ meeting setting out its (anonymised) findings and recommendations for action, and for that report (if adopted by the branch) to be circulated amongst all BUCU members.
The existing branch officers must abide by this resolution –or, if they feel unable to, then they should step down from their position as branch officers.
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