Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson, has been asked to intervene at Leeds University after recently announcing the most savage set of funding cuts to higher education in years.
It is alleged that in its actions to implement restructure plans for the Faculty of Biological Sciences, the university had bypassed the body responsible for its academic prerogative, the Senate.
The news of Lord Mandelson’s intervention came just 24 hours after UCU members at the university announced plans for a programme of industrial action. One-day strikes were planned to take place on 25 February, 2 March, and 4 March in protest against 700 proposed job cuts at the university.
Lord Mandelson, due to his titular role as Lord President of the Council, oversees 16 universities. He was presented on 29 January with a petition that stated the academic mission of Leeds University is the responsibility of the Senate and that its Council and executive had no right to act as it had in accordance with the rules of governance.
The Visitor – whose job is one of the functions of the Lord President of the Privy Council – is responsible for hearing petitions concerning whether the universities under his authority have properly interpreted and applied their internal rules.
The petition also called for action related to additional cost-cutting plans in other departments to be put on hold until Mandelson had investigated the complaint, and was presented by a member of the University and College Union (UCU).
UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said: “We are pleased that the Visitor agrees with us that the current cost cutting plans at Leeds must be put on hold to allow this issue to be properly investigated. UCU continues to believe a sensible way forward is possible at Leeds and we call on the university to join us in meaningful negotiations to avoid a damaging dispute.”
Lord Mandelson’s office has since written to Leeds University requesting that until further notice it puts an end to its restructuring and its plans for £35 million efficiency savings, including the estimated 700 job cuts.
The university now has six weeks in order to respond to the letter. A spokesman for Leeds University said the appeal was “wholly misconceived”, and that they “will resist the petition vigorously.”