One of Scotland’s largest universities could be hit with strike action after officials announced cuts to more than 100 jobs to help mitigate the financial impact of coronavirus.
Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, which has more than 20,000 students enrolled, plans to axe 130 roles, including both academic and support positions.
The move comes after a round of 100 redundancies at the teaching institution in 2017 was announced in an effort to save £4.25 million.
The news has been criticised by the University and College Union (UCU) as “an attempt to take advantage of the global pandemic,” but a spokesperson Heriot-Watt insisted that coronavirus had made a “significant impact” on its income.
The UCU has vowed to move forward with a statutory ballot on industrial action in the wake of the decision - including possible strikes.
Mary Senior, UCU’s Scotland official, told The Herald: “The decision to axe 130 jobs at Heriot-Watt University is piling the worry, uncertainty and angst upon staff and students at this already difficult time, with the Covid-19 virus spreading more rapidly.
“Making the cuts so soon after the redundancy round of 2017 raises questions about the university’s management and that this is an attempt to take advantage of the global pandemic.
“UCU remains open to negotiation and consultation to avoid compulsory job cuts, and we are urging the employer to do all they can to look to alternative options.
“However, our members are clear that they need to show the employer the strength of feeling against further cuts, and that’s why we are now moving to a statutory ballot to oppose redundancies.”
A spokeswoman for Heriot-Watt University said the pandemic had resulted in a “significant impact” on its income.
“This financial challenge is resulting in the need to make some difficult decisions, and this includes proposals to reduce the number of roles across the university,” she added.
“We are committed to finding these through voluntary means wherever possible, either through potential redundancy or other voluntary options such as a reduction in working hours, career breaks and flexible retirement.
“We continue to consider all suggestions for cost savings, and consultation with unions and staff around the proposals for role reductions, which includes a number of externally-funded research roles coming to their natural end, is ongoing.
“No final decisions have yet been made and the programme for voluntary options is currently still open.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said it would not intervene, but insisted industrial action was “in no-one’s interests”.
“This is a difficult time for many as we navigate our way through this crisis,” they told the Herald.
“Last month the Further Education Minister wrote to the principals of our colleges and universities, reinforcing his expectation that institutions adhere to Fair Work principles as staff and resource requirements are reviewed.
“He also urged them to consider compulsory redundancies only as a last resort, after all other cost-saving measures have been fully explored.
“While it is not for the Scottish Government to intervene, industrial action is in no-one’s interests... and we expect the university and the unions to work together and make every effort to protect staff jobs and minimise disruption to students.”