European model seems unsustainable

May 24, 2012

Roger Walters is correct in stating that The Open University's council has initiated a full consultation exercise on the proposal to cease direct employment of its staff based in continental Europe ("Unworthy sacrifice", Letters, 17 May). We aim to increase student numbers in Europe, but we believe that the current model for supporting such students is not a viable basis for expansion. The support arrangements have grown organically over a number of years, and are provided by hard-working and professional staff. The proposal to change our support model is not a reflection on their contribution and performance, but is based on a combination of regulatory, operational and financial considerations.

As Walters is aware, the consultation process has several weeks more to run. A report will be provided to the council at its meeting on 17 July: it is only then that a final decision will be taken. The Open University will ensure that the different processes that apply in each country are followed, and the staff affected will have the opportunity to discuss their individual situations. We will also provide extensive help and assistance, including opportunities for redeployment wherever possible.

While the costs of ending the current arrangements are considerable, this is not the main issue. Achieving regulatory compliance in 12 jurisdictions is a significant financial and operational commitment. The university has reviewed the options in depth over a number of years and reluctantly considers that the complex existing arrangements are not sustainable.

We are mindful of the quality of the student experience we offer in Europe. Seventy per cent of The Open University's overseas students are already successfully supported by UK-based tutors, and only 8 per cent of European tutors support students in the same country. If the council decides to end the direct employment of staff based in continental Europe, all students will be supported by UK-based tutors. This approach has already proved to deliver an excellent learning experience.

Nigel Holt, Director of human resources, The Open University

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