The New Year could bring a round of job cuts at struggling universities after warnings over political uncertainty and deteriorating balance sheets raised redundancy fears.

Unions say that the reduction in university staff numbers will send out the ‘wrong signal to potential students’.

The universities have warned staff to be prepared for redundancies because of lower forecasts for student recruitment, sudden shifts in government policy and Brexit uncertainty.

Over the last few days, half a dozen universities have been informing staff that jobs could be lost in 2019, including those at Russell Group universities, including Cardiff University.

One national newspaper is reporting that many university staff members are, privately, preparing themselves for redundancy in late 2019.

Universities alarmed over projected student numbers

The news comes after several universities raised the alarm over projected student numbers that are being prepared before the 15 January deadline for undergraduates.

The universities are also reporting their financial results for 2017/18 – and many do not make for comfortable reading.

The head of policy for the University and College Union (UCU), Matt Waddup, said: “Cuts to staff will hamper a university’s ability for delivering high quality research and teaching and providing support for students.

“Staff are overstretched already and asking those who remain to do more is not a sustainable strategy.”

He added: “Students say repeatedly they want more investment in staff as a top priority. Yet the proportion of spending on staff has fallen. Reducing staff will send out the wrong signal entirely to potential students.”

Preparations for a voluntary redundancy scheme

Among the universities that have informed staff of potential job cuts include the University of Reading, which revealed on Monday that preparations for a voluntary redundancy scheme are being put together and this would open for volunteers in January.

The university’s Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof Robert Van de Noort, said in an email that the voluntary redundancy scheme is one option that is currently available to employers.

He also suggested that university staff should consider reduced hours, early retirement or changes to their contracts in a bid to avoid compulsory redundancies being imposed.

The news coincides with the University of Reading publishing its accounts to reveal that it made a £20 million loss, including a £27 million loss on its Malaysian subsidiary.

In his email, Mr Van de Noort, said: “The year ahead will be difficult but I’m confident that as a university community, we can address difficulties and remain a leader in research and teaching.”

The Vice Chancellor at the University of Cardiff, Colin Riordan, has also written to staff informing them that from January a voluntary redundancy scheme will be offered. He also adds that the option of compulsory staff cuts at that time ‘cannot be ruled out’.

University is facing a third round of voluntary redundancies

The university branches of Unison, Unite and UCU unions at Cardiff issued a joint statement that expressed their ‘astonishment’ that the university is facing a third round of voluntary redundancies in six years and that the university is refusing to rule out compulsory redundancies.

The University of Gloucestershire has also told staff that more than 100 jobs will be lost plus potentially other jobs, as they struggle to rebalance the books in ‘challenging conditions’.

In a statement, the university says: “There’s a demographic fall in the numbers of 18-year-olds which is affecting higher education demand.”

The university adds that there’s growing competition for undergraduate recruitment and the amount the university can charge home undergraduates being capped adding to their financial struggles.