Last year, the East Grinstead regional centre that served the South East was removed from the Open University map. Under new proposals, the OU’s regional structure will be reduced further. Some are describing it as the OU’s Hunger Games, pitting region against region.
If implemented, the proposals could shut up to seven offices, leaving just London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. Regional centres in Leeds, Gateshead, Manchester, Oxford, Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham are all under threat, which undermines the university’s claim to be a local university with a network of regional centres throughout the UK.
It seems to be odd timing when the political direction is to devolve power to English cities, with the university in an enviable position to take advantage of the possibilities that such devolution could bring. The government’s push for apprenticeships and the rethinking of higher education would also make the OU’s local infrastructure invaluable. However, it seems to be on course to becoming a centralised model, creating vast geographical distances between full-time staff, students and the associate lecturers who deliver tuition. The inevitable staff cuts would mean the loss of hundreds of years of collective experience and the end of a commitment to supporting students across the UK.
The final decision is due in the autumn, which gives Peter Horrocks time to take up the reins as the university’s vice-chancellor and decide what the OU will look like. One thing that seems certain is that the university is on the brink of a change that many feel will threaten the fabric of one of the country’s greatest institutions for championing opportunity.
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