Managers and Moocs at root of OU’s woes

February 26, 2015

The University and College Union branch at The Open University is extremely concerned about the deficit and falling student numbers reported in Times Higher Education (“OU’s numbers dive 28% as pool of part-timers dries up”, News, 19 February).

The tuition fees regime in England has caused considerable difficulties for universities, particularly leaders in part-time study such as the OU. However, we want to know how the institution has such a large unexpected deficit when it was always aware of falling student numbers.

We need to be told what the impact will be on the institution’s resources. Last year, for example, the university closed one of its nine English regional offices and produced an unconvincing business case after the decision had been taken. We are not prepared to see more poorly planned cuts disguised as reactions to this news.

Local UCU members feel that the current leadership has failed to listen to staff and that decision-making at the institution has become corporate rather than collegial. We hope the new vice-chancellor will take the opportunity of his appointment to rebuild trust with staff.

Pauline Collins
President, University and College Union The Open University


The problems of recruitment and funding at The Open University made for dismal reading for the thousands of people who love the institution and what it has done for so many students over the past 45 years.

Some of the reasons for the funding problem are beyond the OU’s control, but a few of us are deeply worried that the focus and expenditure on massive open online courses and FutureLearn have diverted the senior management’s attention from the OU’s main task of providing an education for its registered students. It now appears that the OU’s graduation rate is about 13 per cent, compared with an average graduation rate for full-time UK universities of about 80 per cent.

It is to be hoped that the funding problems will not affect the support to students that is urgently needed to overcome this “distance education deficit”, as it is being called.

Ormond Simpson
Visiting fellow, Centre for Distance Education, University of London International Programmes
Former senior lecturer, the OU Institute of Educational Technology

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