The Open University has confirmed plans to shut seven of its regional centres, triggering strike action by union members.
The OU’s governing council approved a proposal to centralise student support in three larger sites, meaning that more than 500 staff now face a choice of relocating or leaving.
The University and College Union immediately confirmed that its members at the institution would stage a one-day walkout on 25 November, following a ballot earlier this month in which 72 per cent of voters backed the action.
Further strike action will follow on separate dates at each of the affected centres, beginning in Birmingham on 30 November. The action will continue on consecutive working days in London, Oxford and Leeds, followed by Gateshead, Cambridge and Bristol.
Subsequent walkouts are planned for the sites where student support will be centralised: Manchester, Nottingham, and the OU’s headquarters in Milton Keynes.
The OU’s UCU branch, which is taking industrial action over a local dispute for the first time in its history, warned that the closures will have a damaging impact on staff and students.
Pauline Collins, the branch president, said that the council’s decision was “deeply disappointing”.
“Nobody wants to take strike action, but we have now been left with no alternative,” she said. “The university needs to listen to our concerns and abandon these damaging proposals.”
The university’s senate also called for the proposals to be dropped, describing them as “very high risk” and as failing to support the academic mission of the institution.
But the OU has highlighted that the vast majority of students do not visit a regional centre, contacting the institution via email or telephone instead. About 130 of the 502 posts affected are academic positions and these staff should be able to work from home if they do not move to another office, a spokesman said.
“This is an important decision for the university and its students as it means we can now introduce much-needed improvements to our student support services – something which simply isn’t possible across dispersed, smaller offices,” said Peter Horrocks, the OU’s vice-chancellor. “No local services to students, including individual support for disabled students, will be withdrawn, however we recognise the impact this will have on affected staff.
“Our priority now is to maintain and improve services for our hard-working students while supporting our staff as we start to implement these changes.”