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NINE out of Bristol University's 10 Legal Practice Course (LPC) lecturers have defected to the University of the West of England (UWE) and threatened their old employers with an unfair dismissal claim.
The dramatic move follows months of uncertainty about the future of Bristol University's 100-place LPC course after the university's senate voted to close it in January.
Earlier this month the university signed a deal with Leicester-based De Montfort University to allow it to take over the course and its teaching staff. Bristol University believes that the deal amounts to a transfer under the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations (Tupe) - but the defecting lecturers, who had publicly supported a counter bid from the UWE to take over the course, disagree.
They issued a statement last week claiming the university should have introduced redundancy proceedings and offered them alternative jobs at the university rather than simply going ahead with the De Montfort deal.
The statement said: "Since February the university has refused to discuss with us the issues of redundancy or re-deployment and has proceeded on the basis that the De Montfort deal would be completed.
"We have accordingly regarded ourselves as having been given a notice of dismissal... We regard our dismissal by the university as unfair and will consider in due course enforcing our rights."
However, Professor Michael Furmston, head of the university's school of law, said he had spoken to the lecturers on a number of occasions about their position. "We have taken legal advice that the arrangement with De Monfort was a transfer," he added.
Seven of the nine lecturers are joining the UWE on a full-time basis, two others have obtained jobs with private firms but both will lecture at the university on a visiting basis.
The only member of Bristol University's LPC teaching staff to stay put is Professor Ruth Annand, who will continue as a professor in the law faculty.
The UWE is one of four institutions to be awarded the top rating for its LPC course by the Law Society and currently has 280 places on its LPC course.
Associate Dean and Head of Professional Legal Studies, Paul Rylance, said demand for places on the UWE's course had soared, but it had no immediate plans to increase the number of places.
A spokesman for De Montfort University said it was continuing with its plans to establish the Bristol centre this autumn.