TEESSIDE University is facing mounting anger over plans to make 26 research professors to re-apply for new roles with an online letter of protest attracting support from around the world.

More than 500 people, many existing university lecturers employed elsewhere, have put their name to an open letter published online and commented on it.

It includes contributions from academics in America, Australia, Germany, Holland and Latvia.

The University and College Union has described the move as “bizarre” and said those that did not want to take part in what it called a “strange performance audit”, in which they had justify their research and any funding bids, would be offered a severance package of nine months’ salary to leave.

In response the university said it was still in early discussions and no element of the process had yet been finalised.

The letter said: “What were promised as permanent and secure positions have now been rendered precarious.”

It added: “This is an open letter to Teesside University that condemns these plans, questions the legitimacy of their rationale, and calls for their immediate delay and thorough re-evaluation.

“It is signed and supported by academics from dozens of higher education institutions, expressing solidarity with our professorial colleagues impacted by the proposed exercise.”

The authors also warned: “As academics employed as lecturers, researchers and professors at dozens of universities, we give warning to other institutions that similar action will not be accepted quietly and will not come without risk of reputational damage.”

A spokesman for Teesside University said it was aware of the open letter, but the institution did not expand upon a previous statement it had issued.

The changes are part of an upcoming ‘research excellence framework’ exercise with the aim also being to create a single, clear and consistent role description for the affected group of staff.