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Open University VC announces need for change

The Open University has started a root and branch review of its work to ensure it is fit to face the growing challenges of the future.

The University’s traditional market – part-time higher education – is under threat from a decline in student numbers and potential competition from new providers.

The Higher Education and Research Bill for England is expected to encourage greater competition in higher education, creating pressures as well as opportunities for the OU.

The OU’s vice-chancellor, Peter Horrocks, warned that the University needed to be agile enough to respond to these challenges.

In an email to staff, he said: “Our cost base is rising and our attempts in recent years to diversify income are growing future income too slowly.

“We now need to establish the right cost base for the University by allocating and deploying our resources differently and investing in areas that will grow our income.

“Externally, the higher education policy landscape across the UK continues to change rapidly. In England, the Higher Education and Research Bill is likely to deliver a more diverse and competitive higher education market.

“For the foreseeable future in England, the University’s ability to benefit from policy changes will depend on our own efforts. That puts a premium on the responsiveness of our business model. We need to be more agile to harness the opportunities as they arise, to maximise the number of students and employers who benefit from life-changing learning, driving skills into UK Plc.”

The UK Government’s proposed apprenticeship levy and a possible relaxation of rules preventing students from obtaining loans for second degrees and maintenance loans for part-time study in England would provide an opportunity for the OU, he said, but to benefit the University would need to compete hard.
The OU Redesign will analyse every aspect of the University’s operations, looking for potential efficiencies and changes of approach, whilst remaining committed to its Students First strategy.

The project will be conducted by a mix of academic and professional services staff supported by consultants KPMG. A final report and recommendations are expected in late Spring for consideration by the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive.