Nearly 100 academic and managerial jobs at Luton University are to be axed in a £4m cost-cutting exercise to compensate for falling student numbers.

The lecturers' union Natfhe protested today but blamed the crisis on inadequate government funding for the new universities which it says receive only half as much income for teaching as the old universities.

The university is cutting back courses including history, maths, technology and English, where student numbers are down, and concentrating resources instead on more popular subjects such as business, computing and media studies. Luton also intends to place less emphasis on recruiting full-time undergraduate students - whose numbers are down - and more on part-time, postgraduate and overseas students.

The union is currently in talks with university management to try to avoid compulsory redundancies and re-deploy the threatened staff to other academic departments.

Vice Chancellor Dai John stressed final job losses would be much lower as staff were re-deployed. The action was a necessary response to the changing pattern of higher education, including a marked shift in demand towards the more vocational rather than the traditionally academic subjects.

"The amended course portfolio will underpin the university's growth for the future while allowing a reduction in expenditure of some £4m this year to help offset the funding lost through lower recruitment in some areas."

Jenny Golden, Natfhe's regional official said: "This crisis is due mainly to the mixed messages that the new universities receive from the government. On the one hand they are told to improve access to higher education while, on the other, receiving only half the teaching income of the old universities for doing so. This funding disparity means that universities like Luton have to be especially sensitive to the profitability of their courses."

She added that a lot of Luton's students came from the local ethnic and working-class populations. "Inadequate student financial support means that many of these students have to consider carefully whether they can afford to study full-time. If they do, they frequently choose a course on the basis of its employment potential rather than pure academic interest."

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