MORE than 40 cleaning and student accomodation jobs at Oxford Brookes University could go to cut costs.

Non-academic staff were called to meetings yesterday to hear how Brookes is preparing for a new era of falling student numbers, as it emerged that hundreds of student rooms now lie empty.

Union leaders say there will be serious implications for support staff with hundreds facing months of worry about what will happen to their jobs.

Halls of residence staff, cleaners, caretakers and maintenance staff will be among those affected. The Unison union, which represents 400 of the 1,400 non-academic staff at Brookes, said it would fight to ensure as many workers as possible are redeployed.

Jon Appleton, of Unison, said some jobs could go altogether, while some staff face the possibility of pay cuts and shorter hours.

While the university would not comment on numbers, its own detailed proposals outlined a cut of posts from 105 current staffing to 61. The university said it is having to re-organise in the face of ongoing financial pressures. A document setting out its proposals was handed to staff representatives before four meetings.

It said: “The volatility and uncertainty around the university’s income was illustrated this year by the lower number of students recruited and in the increase in empty rooms in our halls.

“We will also need greater levels of flexibility both in our ways of working and our costs.

“Ultimately the aim of the restructure is to help secure the long-term future of the university.” The university said it was hopeful of avoiding significant job losses and compulsory redundancies.

Bob Price, the university’s director of human resources, said: “While there will be changes within teams, we expect staff numbers across the structure to be broadly similar to what they are now.

“It is not by any means definite that there will be staff displaced at the end of the process, but if this is the case, we will seek to find them alternative roles.

“We fully understand the process will create some uncertainty for colleagues, but we are extremely keen to emphasise that the consultation will be extensive and at this stage no decisions have been made,” he added.

A consultation will take place with staff and Unison throughout April, with a decision on the proposals announced on May 24.

Mr Appleton said: “There will be a lot of changes to jobs.

“Whether at the end of the day there will be fewer jobs than there are now is not clear.

“It will be difficult to find anyone whose job will be completely untouched. People have been hearing rumours for six months.

“That worry is now going to continue. We have to find acceptable roles for most of our people that are acceptable to them.”

But he feared that ‘flexibility’ could mean shorter hours and reduced pay.

The university in recent years has embarked on a massive redevelopment and building expansion. The new John Henry Brookes Library and teaching building will open later this year, allowing some staff to be relocated.

This year Brookes has about 800 fewer students than last year, representing a fall of between 10 and 15 per cent, with 500 fewer undergraduates and 300 fewer postgraduates. As a result there are about 250 rooms vacant in the university’s halls of residence, out of a total of about 5,000 rooms.