The British permanent faculty system seems to differ from the US tenured system mainly in that in the former the management can 'fire' one on the basis of redundancy (What is the difference between permanent faculty positions in the UK and tenured faculty positions in the US/Canada?). How common is redundancy in practice in the countries having the British system (UK/Australia/NZ/Ireland)? Thanks, John

  • As far as Australia goes, I have not heard of a tenured professor being made redundant. It would be against the terms of theor contract. Source: Me. Commented May 30, 2015 at 4:32
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    @Mothermole1, there is no tenured positions in Australia according to this answer: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/11785/… Also, according to one of the answers to that question, permanent faculty members do often get scrutinized by the management. I am not from that system so I do not know how rare/common that is. Any idea?
    – John
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 5:04
  • That is not my personal experience. We have had many professors in our department who were ineffective, but due to their tenure, were not able to be fired, even though they were incompetent. It certainly does exist at my university. Commented May 30, 2015 at 5:09
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    @Mothermole1, There seems to be recent redundancy drive by a major university in New Zealand which follows the Australian system stuff.co.nz/national/education/7476793/…
    – John
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 21:42
  • @stay_frosty Redundancy, at least as used in the UK legal system, has no relationship to competance. You cannot make someone redundant because they are incompetant. An employer makes a post redundant, not a person. It is used where a particular type of work is no longer required. Commented May 7 at 11:43

4 Answers 4


Redundancies are a standard management tool in UK academia at the moment. A quick Google of the Times Higher Education Supplement suggests that there were about 1,300 academic redundancies in the UK in 2011-12, or an average of about 18 per Higher Education institution in 2011-12. At the moment a number of institutions are making compulsory cuts by closing departments. The University of Surrey is one example, as are Warwick and London Metropolitan. I'm sure there are others. The are also a lot of institutions looking for voluntary redundancies.

This all has to do with economic pressures, managerial/strategic rationalisation and either perceived student demand or disappointing internationalisation experiments.

Academic tenure, such as it was,was phased out in the UK from the mid 1970s onwards.


This article is relevant and interesting and summarises the nature of employment in the UK: http://simonbatterbury.net/pubs/tenurebatterbury.pdf

The current Systems Engineering department at Reading University (UK) is being shut down and the majority of academics there will lose their jobs. They are closing down due to not attracting enough students and funding, this process is standard here, similar to if a non-academic company/business shut down or down sized. Reading has had this problem multiple times, I don't know how it varies across universities but redundancies are clearly linked with the success of the department, something that could be investigated but not predicted before taking up an offer. At a well funded and stable university, redundancy is unlikely.

2010 Reading Physics department closure: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6159106.stm

2015 Reading systems engineering department closure: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-32978132

Australia: http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2015/05/university-researchers-take-brunt-cuts-australian-budget and a very relevant article about the redundancy of an Australian university Professor who was reinstated: http://www.nteu.org.au/article/Federal-Court-reinstates-university-professor-sacked-in-sham-redundancy--14702 The article makes it very clear that Professors in Australia can be made redundant for financial reasons.

In NZ:
Government owned industry: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/rural/275287/possible-job-cuts-at-agresearch

In NI: QUB's website details that academics can be made redundant. http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/HumanResources/PersonnelDepartment/EmployeeBenefits/PayandConditions/LeavingEmployment/TerminationofEmployment-AcademicResearchStaff/

In Ireland the system is different: http://www.eui.eu/ProgrammesAndFellowships/AcademicCareersObservatory/AcademicCareersbyCountry/Ireland.aspx "About 80% of the academic staff in Ireland hold permanent tenured positions. All full time academic staff are civil servants and tenured in the sense that they can not be fired without a serious cause, such as incompetence or outrageous conduct. This is very different from the systems of the UK and the US. For example, in the UK only about 55% hold permanent contracts and there is no tenure."

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    Note that AgResearch is a government-owned quasi-commercial research institute, not a university, and its staff aren't in exactly the same legal position as university faculty. Redundancy does still exist for both, as noted in another comment on the question. Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 10:08

A note about terminology:

Termination of employment

Academic staff in the UK (I can't speak for AUS or NZ) have no special protections compared to any employee of any business. However, everyone has more protection that employees in some other countries. Notably the US.

After you have been employed by an employer for more than 2 years, your employment can only be terminated for a limited number of "fair" reasons, else the employee can sue for "unfair dismissal". The main reasons are:

  • Gross Misconduct
  • Capability to fullfill contractual terms
  • Redundancy of post

Note that dismissal mechanisms similar to redundancy and misconduct exist for tenured US staff as well.


Contrary to common belief, a company makes a post, rather than a person redundant. They say that "we no longer need to employ anyone/as many people to do X". The fact that this person or that person does job X is not supposed to affect the decision. Once a decision has been made to make people redundant, the employer must send all people who do job X an "at-risk" notice. They must then use a fair and transparent process to decide. Here how good you are at your job can be taken into account. Unless the employer is at immediate financial risk, such processes usually take weeks to months. Once this process is complete, the employer cannot then hire new people to replace the terminated employees, because this would prove that it wasn't genuine redundancy.

The University of Leicester recently lost a case around whether or not their redundancy process was fair.

How common is it?

Historically redundancy for permanent academic staff is very rare, although it does happen. When it happens it is almost always whole or fractions (say half, or a quarter) of a department, rather than individuals. A previous answer highlighted that 1,300 staff were made redundant in 2011-2012, however, this was a difficult year for British academia with new government bringing in austerity in the wake of the 2008 crash. Still, 1,300 is only a small fraction of the 234,000 academics in the country.

More common are Voluntary Severance Schemes, where the university offers an enhanced financial package to those that agree to leave. We have had two waves of that in recent years at my institution, one associated with Brexit, and the next with the pandemic.

Things have change a bit in the last couple of years, with a combination of inflation, no raise in tuition fees since 2012, reduced openness to student visas and increase competition from other countries for foreign students meaning that UK academia is kind of teetering on the edge of collapse. The academic union, UCU keeps a list of all the institutions that are making, or have recently made redundancies here: https://qmucu.org/qmul-transformation/uk-he-shrinking/

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    I guess it's worth noting that (from what I can observe, currently going thru the process, and comparing to other Unis currently going thru it), that the typical process seems to be Volountary Severance (staff opt to leave, with a package, but theoretically could be replaced), followed by Volountary Redundancy (a set of posts is put "at-risk", using the role description but not based on performance, and anybody in that post can volounteer as tribute), followed by Compuslory Redundancy (based on performance, some of the "at-risk" folk from the previous point will be asked to leave).
    – penelope
    Commented May 7 at 12:45
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    And while what you write about fractions of depts being put at risk rather than individuals mostly matches my experience (there is that one department which seems to have singled out two individuals); the "fractions" seem to vary a lot -- between zero, small proportions such as 1/30, to quite big cuts (1/4). Some departments had a target of "zero" redundancies because the whole shebang was preceded with a hiring freeze -- so a dept that had a large amount of open, unfilled positions pulled before we started discussing letting go existing staff, was not forced to let go any existing academics.
    – penelope
    Commented May 7 at 12:49
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    @penelope As someone I know that works in employment law often says: "They can do whatever they like. A judge can find against them in an unfair dismissal hearing but can't stop them from doing it". There has been quite the uptick recently in tribunals finding against universities. Commented May 7 at 12:53

In Australia, redundancies do happen, but are not super common. Of the hundreds of university faculty I know personally, perhaps half a dozen have been personally affected by redundancies at some point in their careers. These usually happen when the university is in financial difficulty and it has decided to reduce staffing across the board, or when they have decided to close an entire department (e.g., due to insufficient student enrolments or a change in strategy).

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