Staff and students at Oxford Brookes University have reacted with shock and anger at the news that almost fifty members of staff are being threatened with redundancy. This comes as a blow at a time when staff morale is already low evidenced by the poor staff Wellbeing Survey 2023 results undertaken by independent consultants.
On Wednesday 15 November 2023, the Vice-Chancellor’s Group (VCG) of Oxford Brookes University officially announced the decision ‘to reduce academic staff numbers (…) in the Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) and Technology, Design and Environment (TDE) in order to achieve a £2m p.a. saving on staffing costs.’ The university blamed “external factors” including inflation, the frozen undergraduate fee level and increases in staff pay and pension contributions.
The departments and schools concerned by the risk of compulsory redundancies, and currently given less than 5 weeks for consideration of a Voluntary Severance scheme, are Anthropology; English, Drama, and Creative Writing; History; Film; Publishing; and Architecture.
Staff in these departments were initially asked to consider their options by 7th December 2023, and to be out of post by the end of January 2024. This is outrageous in terms of these individuals’ livelihoods but also in terms of how teaching in these departments is supposed to resume in semester 2 with reduced staffing. Thanks to pressure from staff and the union, the VCG announced on 22 November that they would extend the deadline for applications to voluntary severance to 13 December. This is good news, but far from the 3 months extension we requested, and does not solve the problem of teaching provision in semester 2.
The VCG also announced the proposed closure of the Music and Mathematics programmes within TDE. In the case of Music, this will lead to redundancies of all staff once all current students have graduated. The Music department has issued a letter of protest, and a petition has already been created by students and garnering support to stop the closure of this extremely well-loved and respected department.
The closure of these departments is shocking to colleagues at Brookes and the wider academic and local community. All the departments concerned have returned high REF results in the last REF exercise and English is ranked 6th in the UK. Oxford Brookes University Chancellor Paterson Joseph spoke out about the plans to make staff redundant at the university, calling them “deeply worrying”. In his inauguration last May, the award-winning actor and author spoke passionately about the importance of storytelling and praised Brookes as a “playground for the mind”, referring precisely to the subjects facing cuts today.
The Oxford Brookes UCU branch is requesting urgent clarification on a number of issues relating to financial data and cross-university data regarding department selection, student recruitment (especially PG), staff-student ratios, income generation, and market trends. It is also demanding an extension to the formal consultation period from 30 days to 3 months as a sign that the VCG values the contribution of its staff and their wellbeing and gives them time beyond the statutory limit to process and act on this decision.
In summary, the branch believes, first, there is no financial reason for this precipitate action, as far as we can see from the information provided to us, to lose any academic staff. This is especially in light of a meeting in recent weeks where a very positive financial picture was drawn.
Second, we do not accept the spurious long-term predictions used for these announcements, based on short-term analysis of existing student numbers, and a very uncertain market.
Third, we contest and strongly oppose the so-called consultation process. Neither the branch nor senior management staff in affected departments have been involved in the discussions prior to the decisions leading to this announcement. Staff have not been given an opportunity to voice any suggestions for cost saving or income increasing measures to avoid redundancies.
Fourth, and finally, we will oppose any compulsory redundancies. Our membership passed two motions on 17 November at a very well attended EGM, declaring a vote of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor and stating our above position, as well as the possibility of industrial action, should these redundancies be pursued.
Please support the campaign against these unfounded redundancies and attacks on the arts, humanities, social sciences, and maths by signing this open letter, joining the branch and the campaign, contacting those directly affected and our officers and reps, and following us on ‘X’ (formerly known as Twitter).