Education & Family

Open University plans to axe seven regional centres

woman working Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The OU has almost 200,000 students, many of whom combine study with employment

The Open University is to close seven regional centres in what it says is an attempt to streamline student support.

The OU says affected staff would need to relocate, or take voluntary redundancy or early retirement.

The OU says services to students will not be reduced or withdrawn and the institution remains committed to operating across the whole of the UK.

But unions described the plans as catastrophic and warned that 500 jobs across the seven centres were at risk.

Under the proposals, OU offices in Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford would close.

The university said these were not offices that were used predominantly as teaching centres.

The new structure would see existing offices in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, Manchester and Nottingham retained, as well as a small sub-office in Dublin.

Student support

The OU said the centres in Milton Keynes, Manchester and Nottingham would expand, allowing them to give greater investment in student support and "deliver improvements that are not possible in the current configuration of 13 offices".

"These improvements include quicker response times, more proactive support to those students who need help during their studies and longer opening hours," a statement from the university said.

"The larger centres will help us provide seamless support for students from first contact through to completion of studies."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The OU says the plan will improve student support, but unions warn of job losses

The OU says the new structure will be in place by February 2017 at the earliest.

A final decision will be made by the university's council in late November. If approved, a period of consultation with unions will follow.

Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor of the OU, said students' experience of the university had not been limited by geography for some time.

"This is a difficult decision and I fully recognise the impact it will have on many of our staff, but we cannot afford to stay still.

"This recommendation, if approved, would allow us to enhance student support in a way that's simply not possible in our current office network, and offer our students the sort of support they expect and deserve."

'Unconvinced'

But the University and College Union (UCU) warned that thousands of current and future students could be affected by the move, which could see the removal of services, such as careers counselling, study advice and support for disabled students.

OU UCU branch president Pauline Collins said the OU was respected all over the world for the way it brought quality higher education to a wide range of people.

"At the core of that mission are its dedicated regional staff who provide essential support to thousands of students and their tutors.

"Axing almost 500 staff across seven centres would be catastrophic and decimate the Open University's ability to provide the kind of local support that students need.

"We are unconvinced by the university's talk of staff relocating, especially as this will mean hours spent in the car or on the train just trying to get to and from work."

The OU has almost 200,000 students, with many combining their study with employment and other commitments.

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