Closure is no balm for Open University staff

June 26, 2014

I am one of the people affected by the closure of The Open University’s East Grinstead regional centre (“OU staff express anger over centre closure”, 19 June).

A university spokesman cited the “prohibitive” cost of alternative premises. Staff were told this, but phone calls to East Grinstead estate agents uncovered nearby office space for about 10 per cent cheaper than the annual rent of £80,000 (and that’s before any negotiation). While there are relatively few sizeable, suitable offices in East Grinstead, they are available, and space is cheaper than it is in London, where staff are expected to relocate.

The estimate of 700 jobs being at risk is not unreasonable. Of the 64 staff in East Grinstead, I believe about 40 are “choosing” voluntary severance, rather than opting to move to London with the increased travel time and expense that would entail.

The university has made clear that in the review of English regional offices, only London is “safe” from review. There are about 750 staff working in English regional offices (in East Grinstead, Birmingham, Leeds, Gateshead, Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, Nottingham and Bristol). If their behaviour follows that of East Grinstead employees, we might expect 500 staff to leave and 250 to have their working lives changed dramatically.

In East Grinstead, many of the people who are likely to opt for voluntary severance are long-serving employees: people with more than 15, 20, even 30 years of service, and who have stayed with The Open University because they believe in its values and the unique opportunities it offers students.

I did smile at the article’s description of staff as “disgruntled” – I don’t think that quite reflects the feeling of employees. I would describe myself as dismayed and deeply concerned – about the working futures of colleagues and about the impact of changes in local provision on our part-time staff (who access staff development and administrative and line management support from East Grinstead) and, of course, on our students, whose uninterrupted support can’t be guaranteed despite the claims of our pro vice-chancellors and our director of student services.

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