Oxford Brookes staff fear jobs ‘cull’ as university plans savings

Institution blames inflation and rising pay and pension contributions

November 16, 2023
Oxford Brookes campus
Source: Creative Commons/wuppertaler

Oxford Brookes University has announced plans to cut jobs that academics fear could amount to some departments being reduced by nearly half.

The University and College Union (UCU) has warned that 48 posts are at risk at the institution. The university blamed “external factors” for its financial problems, including inflation, the frozen undergraduate fee level and increases in staff pay and pension contributions.

The university enrols staff in the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS), which faces contribution hikes of 5 per cent from April, and also participates in the national bargaining system that added between 5 and 8 per cent to staff pay this year

But Nick Varney, the southwest regional official for UCU, claimed it had been told only weeks ago that the university was on a stable financial footing.

In its latest financial accounts, Brookes posted a surplus of £6.3 million – not including pensions adjustments and one-off items – which it said was an “excellent achievement, overcoming a disappointing student intake”.

Post-92 institutions have been squeezed in recent years by the expansion of research-intensive universities, which have added thousands to their student populations.

Mr Varney said the union had been told posts were at risk across anthropology, English, history, music, film, publishing and architecture, and other cost-saving measures at the university included a freeze on promotions.

Alex Goody, a professor of modern literature at the university, said on the social network X that her department was “under a huge threat of redundancies”, alleging that 40 per cent of staff would be “culled” by January.

Brookes’ English department came joint sixth in the latest Research Excellence Framework, higher than its more illustrious neighbour, the University of Oxford.

Mr Varney said the union would be working to prevent any compulsory redundancies and was seeking urgent information on why the financial picture at the university had apparently changed so rapidly.

A spokesperson for Brookes said: “Like many institutions across the sector, the university is experiencing increasing financial challenges due to a range of external factors, such as inflation, flat student fees for UK undergraduates for over a decade and increases in staff pay and employer pension contributions.

“As a result, the university has taken the difficult decision to reduce staff posts in some specific academic areas and to make other, pay-related staff cost savings across the university.”

They added that the university recognised “this will be difficult news for some colleagues and we are supporting them closely”.

“We would like to emphasise that redundancy is, and will always be, our last resort, and we will always seek to identify savings through other avenues where possible, such as reducing non-pay spend, realignment of resources and voluntary severance.

“We remain committed to all of our current students and will ensure that changes to staffing do not interfere with our students continuing and completing successfully their programmes of study.”


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