MEMBERS of the University and College Union (UCU) at the Open University will stage a one-day walk-out today following the university’s decision to push ahead with plans to close seven regional centres including its base in Leeds,
The union says the plans, which were approved by the university council yesterday are putting 502 jobs at risk.
However the OU’s vice chancellor Peter Horrocks said while the Leeds office had done a “a magnificent job over the years” it was part of a structure from a past era. “When students need support, they pick up the phone or send an email,” he added.
“Today, each of our regional offices is only visited by one student a day on average.”
The seven centres earmarked for closure are in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford.
Mr Horrocks said: “It’s important to say upfront that we’re naturally very sorry that these plans could lead to the loss of some great staff. Indeed, we hope that as many as possible will be able to move with their jobs to the three larger centres we’re creating. But ultimately, this is about supporting our students who will see an improvement in the level of service they receive.
He added: “The main purpose of these centres isn’t to provide space for tutorials or exams, these already happen in local schools or colleges. When students have queries about their course, or financial matters, they already get advice from expert, subject-based teams who could be located anywhere in the country. The team in the Leeds office, for example, is just as likely to respond to a query from someone in Exeter as it is from someone up the road in York.
“By spending less money on running and maintaining buildings and more on providing great support to our fee-paying students, the OU can offer them a much better service. This move is about how we organise our teams who are responsible for supporting students. OU academic staff based in Yorkshire will not be losing their jobs. Tutors will work from home, as most do now.”
However a petition against the proposals has received over 6,400 signatures and Bassetlaw MP John Mann has tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons opposing the closure of the regional centres.
The UCU Open University branch president Pauline Collins said: “It is deeply disappointing that the university has chosen to push ahead with these widely criticised plans. The closures are opposed by staff, students, former students and politicians. Our senate, which is the academic body of the university, rejected the plans as high risk and failing to support the mission of the university.
“Nobody wants to take strike action, but we have now been left with no alternative. The university needs to listen to our concerns and abandon these damaging proposals.”