Reports suggest 23 Warwick staff could face redundancy

Future priorities for food security could be damaged by redundancies at the University of Warwick, which this week has issued letters to staff at risk of losing their jobs.

The university's human resources department has been meeting with staff who received notice that they are at risk on Monday (19 April). However, insiders say that the formal notices are "as bad, if not worse" than expected.

Informal reports suggest that 23 out of the 44 academics at Warwick HRI are on the list for redundancy. "In contrast, for the biological sciences department, only nine out of 45 academic staff are on the list," according to a source who did not wish to be named.

University head of communications Peter Dunn said a total of 24-29 posts were expected to be lost across the two departments. Final redundancies will be confirmed at the end of May, he added.

Staff at Wellesbourne have reported that there seems to be a disproportionate focus on retaining staff from biological sciences in the new school of life sciences.

This is not consistent with results from the latest national Research Assessment Exercise 2008, which rated the university's research in agriculture, vet and food science as equal first with the University of Nottingham out of 30 institutes.

However, in biological sciences, the University of Warwick was ranked much lower out of 52 institutes, with 20 centres ranking higher and 11 equal for the very top-level research.

"The redundancies are a total stitch up, with Warwick decimating the UK's top agricultural research department," added the source. "The scoring system that Warwick used to identify the people to be retained takes very little account of the research income brought in or of how an individual's research meets the country's future priorities for food security."

Former Warwick HRI director Simon Bright said: "It is a surprise to me, given the success in research the department had achieved."

National Horticultural Forum chairman Andrew Colquhoun added: "It sounds as though what is happening is fulfilling our worst fears that Wellesbourne scientists are going to be disadvantaged in terms of posts. If horticultural research at Wellesbourne suffers, it becomes more difficult to deliver (the food security) agenda."

Horticulture Development Company chairman Neil Bragg said he was disappointed that the redundancies were going ahead at the same time as the university was supposed to be looking into the business case for the retention of a crop research facility.

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