Unworthy sacrifice

May 17, 2012

The Open University council recently endorsed in principle a proposal to stop the direct employment of staff in Continental Europe. This affects 102 associate lecturers responsible for directly supporting students and nine academic-related staff.

While job losses in higher education are sadly all too familiar, Times Higher Education readers should be aware of the particular circumstances that have led to these proposed redundancies. While the university attributes the decision to "a combination of regulatory, operational and financial reasons", the main driver is clearly its failure, over many years, to put in place lawful employment arrangements for staff outside the UK. In some countries, The Open University simply fails to comply with tax and social security requirements.

We asked the council to defer any decision to allow time for full consideration and consultation with the University and College Union, informed by an investigation into the university's employment practices outside the UK and with a view to reaching agreement on means to protect its reputation and to avoid redundancies. We argued that for the staff concerned to be sacrificed because of the university's failure to put in place proper employment arrangements was simply dishonourable and unacceptable.

However, the council has decided to press ahead with cuts, subject to "due process in each country" and to "full and active consultation with UCU". This beggars belief when you consider that it hasn't yet decided on alternative arrangements for students currently supported by staff in Continental Europe and the huge cost of making the redundancies. By the university's estimates, it will take more than 10 years to recover this money - an estimate we regard as rather modest.

It is a sad day when any university, let alone one with such a proud and principled history, casts a large number of staff on the scrapheap in an attempt to make up for its own failings.

Roger Walters, President, University and College Union, The Open University.

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