Union appeals to tribunal over social work school closure

A lecturers' union is taking Reading University to an employment tribunal over the way it handled a controversial decision to close down its school of social work.

A lecturers’ union is taking Reading University to an employment tribunal over the way it handled a controversial decision to close its social work department.

The University and College Union’s complaint centres on an alleged lack of consultation between the university and staff over the closure of the institution’s school of health and social care, announced in March 2009.

The school is due to close by September 2011 after an internal review questioned its strategic importance to the university as a whole.

The closure provoked angry protests from academics and students, who launched an online petition to save the school, gaining 700 signatures.

The UCU represents 20 academic staff at the school, including several social work lecturers, whose futures remain undecided. The union has now lodged a complaint with an employment tribunal over the university’s handling of the decision.

Ian Bland, president of the Reading University branch of the University and College Union, said: “The UCU is in the middle of a dispute with the university about the way the union was consulted. Our members felt very aggrieved about the process.”

He added: “We weren’t properly consulted.”

Meanwhile a proposal to transfer the school of health and social care to Thames Valley University’s Reading campus has fallen through.

Earlier this year, the university confirmed it was in advanced talks with the neighbouring institution, but discussions broke down after the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

Bland said the university had now started talking to another institution outside of the town over a possible transfer, but said members had raised concerns about extra costs associated with commuting or relocation.

“The mood is pretty low at the moment – people have gone through the whole range of emotions from anger to despair to hope,” he said.

A spokesperson for Reading University said: “The University of Reading is in advanced discussions with a university in the region to transfer its social work programmes for the academic year 2011-12. The University had previously been negotiating the transfer of the programmes to Thames Valley University but is no longer pursuing that option.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on the UCU’s complaint.

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