THIS IS NOT THE END: Response by UCU exec to Brookes VCG announcement on 26 January

This is the Brookes UCU exec team’s response to VCG’s announcement sent to members on Thursday 1 February 2024


We are writing to give you an initial response to the VCG’s announcement on the ‘Outcome of consultation on University cost savings measures’ on Friday 26 January. We held exec and branch meetings on Wednesday 31 January to discuss and clarify this announcement and its various implications. Apologies for the long message but there are several issues we need to report and clarify our position on.

To restate our official position, we are officially in dispute with the university, and we held a consultative e-ballot mid-December 2023. We asked the membership two questions:

  • Do you support taking strike action in response to proposed compulsory redundancies and suspension of staff progression and promotion?
  • Do you support taking industrial action short of striking (ASOS) (excluding a marking and assessment boycott (MAB)) in response to proposed compulsory redundancies and suspension of staff progression and promotion?

On both questions members who voted did so affirmatively by more than 86%with a majority of our membership participating in the e-ballot. We decided then to wait until the end of the consultation period scheduled for 17 January 2024, at which point we submitted a 22 page report to VCG including a variety of cost-saving alternatives and arguments for why the VCG’s process had been highly inadequate and unfair. Individual departments also submitted their own reports and proposals.

Following the latest announcement, we believe important progress has been achieved thanks to the threat of industrial action and detailed negotiation. There is no doubt that the stronger we are, the more we can achieve. History and Anthropology, thanks to significant sacrifices from staff, have been declared safe, for the time being, and their VS pools are being closed. The VCG has agreed to open the VS scheme to other departments, which is a way to try and mitigate the threat of compulsory redundancies.

However, these new measures will also cause a range of further problems for staff and students. Crucially, 2 people remain at threat of Compulsory Redundancy (CR) in Music, and this is simply unacceptable to us. Several departments (English, Architecture and Film), where pools of VS schemes remain open, are still on hold as to whether they are safe or not from CR. Their situation is dependent on the outcome of the new VS scheme. Music and Maths are still to be closed.

There also remains significant problems and questions regarding policies and procedures for cuts and redundancies, and regarding impact on remaining staff. Information shared with us reveals that in some cases, such as English, staff’s workloads could increase by 50%, and this was calculated before even the new round of VS.

Regarding impact on students, PhD, MA, and UG students are losing their supervisors and advisors with very little to no extra support. Students remain confused by the situation and are having modules closed at very short notice.

The full impact of VS on staff and students this semester remains very unclear and unsettling, and we are still collecting information from you about this, so please get in touch with any updates.

The response from VCG of concerns raised by the Students’ Brookes Union remains particularly unsatisfactory to us, especially in relation to 1) MA and PhD research students losing supervisors, 2) the vague promise of more wellbeing support, and 3) the need for much clearer and more accessible communication to students about the cuts.

Another important decision made by VCG regarding students (and linked to proposals for savings) is the announcement that the University will be charging students for any modules they have to repeat, even when they have received a disregard based on exceptional circumstances. We are very concerned about this change of policy and how it will negatively impact students awarded disregards and students with disabilities, caring commitments, and health issues.

To recap, this is where we think things stand:


  • Reduction of CR from 28 to 2 full time staff members
  • Broadening of VS scheme (though this comes at significant cost and is still being done on a questionable basis regarding the selection of departments)
  • Progression from L to SL for those at the top of the scale
  • More inclusion of UCU/staff in negotiations as we believe our involvement has been central to the progress achieved

Ongoing (and new) problems:

  • No one is safe: We have been given no guarantees that there will not be the need for CR in the future; in fact, we have been explicitly told that in the current ‘environment’ no such assurances can be given.
  • 2 people still at risk of immediate CR.
  • Closure of Music and hence CR of remaining staff (3.5 FTE) during and at the end of the teachout.
  • Closure of Maths.
  • Impact of VS on staff and departments and on students – in terms of workload, continued uncertainty, and student experience.
  • The rationale and implications of the broadening of VS
  • PhD students, MA students, UG dissertation students losing supervisors and potential risk of ‘fire and rehire’ if supervisors rehired as ALs

In sum, this process has shown that no one is safe, both from financial decisions being made by VCG – which we continue to question and ask for more information on –  and from a range of external problems, which most universities in the UK are suffering from as well. We need a strong union to be able to push the VCG on all of these issues, as they are likely to continue and even get worse. We disagree with the VCG’s narrative that this is a problem caused only by external problems. 

We believe that the redundancy proposals are driven first and foremost by the university’s ambitious capital development project which, as indicated in the HESA report, has led to Brookes being the second most indebted university in the UK with anticipated cash flow problems. We believe it is this that is driving the sudden need for redundancies after assurances (just in October) that the university was in strong financial health with a rosy future ahead. In other words, yes, we are in a challenging, post-92, sector-wide environment, but the ‘external factors’ that university management keeps pointing to were not only foreseeable, their impacts have also been exacerbated by decisions by Brookes management to invest in buildings in the belief that this would solve the university’s financial problems.

We now understand that the University is extending the VS scheme to programmes where the SSRs are deemed inappropriate (this is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are seeking clarity on how and why departments have been included). If this concerns you, you should already have received a letter setting this out from the VCG. The VCG has stressed to us that this does not mean that those programmes are at particular risk; and currently there are no plans for further job cuts, but these are not being ruled out. There will be a series of meetings over the next few months between the employer and the unions to discuss and propose further savings, in the hope that these can be achieved without going down the CR route, which of course we would oppose vigorously.

To conclude on our response, following discussions yesterday, the Branch Exec thinks that at this stage, considering various factors including the ongoing uncertainty about the exact number of CRs, and the extension of VS, it is not in our best interests to trigger an industrial ballot at this point in time. However, this remains a very significant threat, especially as we continue building and reacting to the increasing workloads and problems faced by staff and students as Semester Two teaching begins.

We believe that this branch needs to continue campaigning on the following fronts, and we NEED YOUR HELP! Please contribute any way you can to maintain this campaign, which is undoubtedly going to continue for a while. #stoptheSHAMcuts.

Our goals remain:

  • The removal of remaining staff from CR.
  • The mitigation of impact of VS on remaining staff (in terms of workload) and on staff who may be offered this opportunity yet (in terms of growing unease about the futures of their departments, etc).
  • Achieving a commitment from VCG to open their books to staff and unions.
  • To push for the development of a UCU standing committee that has regular access to financial and strategic data so that we can avoid future compulsory redundancies
  • To achieve an agreed policy framework and procedure (with regular meetings and sharing of relevant financial data and strategic reports) so we can work with the university to avoid future compulsory redundancies – as recommended by national UCU policy guidance
  • To achieve a commitment to implement changes in procedures and organisation of admissions, marketing, recruitment, and website/IT departments, where affected staff have raised significant concerns in terms of how this is affecting their ratings as departments and thus putting them at risk of CR and VS.