The Open University is proposing to close its regional offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford (“Open University set to shut seven regional centres”, 15 September).
It is hard to know what the OU will look like as no vision or detailed plan has been supplied. The financial details are opaque and any form of risk assessment has not been forthcoming.
So the following is conjecture but is based on the way things are already moving and my knowledge of the institution.
The central planners in Milton Keynes cannot coordinate the complexities of local provision of services. The OU will become an online provider with little or no chance for students to meet a tutor in person. Wider student support will be from a call centre with staff who have weaker knowledge of curricula and experience in information and guidance. The support will be guided by computer models that predict student success and failure without much accuracy. Relationships will be virtual and the OU will be competing with other online providers here and abroad.
What will be lost? The chance to meet in local communities at an open event, a local tutorial with a tutor, the ability to adequately provide services for students with disabilities and outreach work to bring in students from deprived areas. We will also lose thousands of years of experience of front-line staff who do not need a script and a decision tree to support a student.
Vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks seems fixed on dismantling the regions of this great institution. There is a petition protesting against the closures that has gained more than 2,000 signatures in 36 hours, and the comments show the strength of feeling.
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