The Open University has confirmed it is to proceed with plans to create three larger student support centres, resulting in the closure of seven smaller offices around England. In this Q&A, the Vice-Chancellor of the OU, Peter Horrocks, explains what the changes will mean for staff and students around the country…
What’s this going to mean for staff in the offices you’re closing?
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.
Are you saying your teams across the country haven’t been doing a good job?
Absolutely not. The OU’s regional offices have done a magnificent job over the years, but they form part of a structure from a past era. When students need support, they pick up the phone or send an email. Today, each of our regional offices is only visited by one student a day on average. That’s out of nearly 200,000 people who study with us.
But won’t students now have to travel miles to get support or speak to their tutor?
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 Bristol office, for example, is just as likely to respond to a query from someone in Newcastle as it is from someone down the road in Bath.
Is this just a cost-saving exercise?
It’s true that 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. But this move is about how we organise our teams who are responsible for supporting students. OU academic staff based in the South West will not be losing their jobs. Tutors will work from home, as most do now.
We will naturally be sad to lose some jobs locally, but this is not a retreat by The Open University. This is about delivering an improvement for the whole of the UK.
Our mission remains as strong today as when the OU was founded almost 50 years ago: we are the university of everywhere, for anyone.