UCU threatens strikes over Oxford Brookes cuts

Union members declare no confidence in vice-chancellor over proposed plan that would see closure of departments

November 20, 2023
UCU official picket banner on a tree
Source: iStock

The University and College Union (UCU) has threatened strike action over cuts being made at Oxford Brookes University that will see the closure of two of its departments.

UCU’s branch at Brookes has also expressed “no confidence” in vice-chancellor Alistair Fitt as its chair, Alan Reeve, claimed there was “no financial need whatsoever” for the proposed “cull” of academic staff.

UCU members met for an emergency meeting on 17 November and 98 per cent of them voted in favour of a possible strike ballot unless the university ruled out compulsory redundancies, UCU said.

It said the proposed cuts affecting mathematics, the arts, humanities and social sciences – with up to 48 staff at risk – would be made “as soon as January 2024”, as the university seeks to save £2 million a year.

Brookes has previously defended its plans as being necessary due to “external factors”, including inflation, the frozen undergraduate fee level and increases in staff pay and pension contributions.

Mathematics and music courses will close to new applicants for “a number of reasons, including declining student numbers enrolling on the programmes”, a spokesperson said previously.

But UCU claimed there was “no rationale for the cuts” as they were based on “spurious financial grounds” and accused the institution of not conducting any “meaningful consultation” over its proposals.

“We can see no financial need whatsoever for these brutal cuts and are willing to ballot for industrial action, including strikes if management refuses to change course,” said Dr Reeve, a reader in planning and urban design.

“It is frankly appalling that senior managers at the university, with pay packets of up to £253,000, want to throw hard-working staff on the scrapheap because of a short-term analysis of student numbers and challengeable long-term predictions.

“Only a few weeks ago we were told there were no financial problems in the institution. The university should be using its more than adequate resources to invest in these excellent departments, so students continue to choose to study here.”

He said the cuts had been announced “as a fait accompli”, with little involvement from the recognised trade unions or staff members affected.

“And staff facing the sack have been given only a few days to voice suggestions for cost-saving measures to avoid redundancies,” Dr Reeve said.

“The university must now work with us to avoid all compulsory redundancies if it wants to avoid potential strike action.”

In a statement, Oxford Brookes said: “We recognise that this is an extremely difficult time for those affected by this proposal. We are in consultation with the trade unions and working closely with our colleagues both collectively and individually to provide as much information as possible.

“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.”


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