The Open University was thrown into crisis last week after their staff passed a vote of no confidence in their vice-chancellor, Peter Horrocks.
Horrocks had originally angered staff after his plan to cut £100m from the university’s £420m budget had included a reduction in the number of courses, qualifications and modules by more than one third.
Horrocks later angered staff by claiming that the OU had allowed academics “to get away with not teaching for decades”. Despite later apologising for these comments, members of the institution’s branch of the Universities and College Union argued that his position was now untenable.
Whilst Horrocks has faced much of the flak for the issues embroiling the OU, the famous British institution is a victim of crippling government legislation.
The OU has lost tens of millions of pounds of state funding, and has found it difficult to compete with the rapid development of rival institutions who raised their tuition fee costs to £9000 following the rising of the cap in 2012. At the core of the Open University is the aim to provide opportunity for all, and thus they resisted this rise, stating that they tried to keep fees ‘as low as possible for as long as possible’.
Ultimately, they had to relent to some degree, but the OU still offers six year courses which cost £18,000 in total, whilst the vast majority of conventional UK universities costs £27,000 over three years.
With the Open University having to raise costs to stay afloat, ultimately they have struggled to attract the same vast number of students which they once famously commanded. The number of new students enrolled at the university slumped from 242,000 in 2011/12 to 172,927 in 2016/17, a fall of 28 per cent.
Some estimates suggest that if funding had not changed in this period, then the OU would have attracted 600,000 more students in this time. The Open University is not something which we should allow to collapse.
It represents that which we should be most proud of in our society, a route towards respected qualifications for those who have been denied the chance to achieve them through conventional means.
It is this ‘ladder of opportunity’ which is lauded in British culture, and if we slammed shut the chance for social mobility for many by allowing the OU to collapse, it would be at great detriment to our society as a whole.
Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University