Open University staff call for vice-chancellor’s resignation

Union members call for removal of threat of hundreds of redundancies and ask for consultation on possible industrial action

April 5, 2018
Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor, The Open University

Staff at The Open University have “overwhelmingly” backed a motion of no confidence in the vice-chancellor, Peter Horrocks.

Members of the institution’s branch of the University and College Union said that Mr Horrocks’ position had become “untenable” after he claimed that the institution’s distance-learning model had allowed academics “to get away with not being teachers for decades”.

The vice-chancellor, who has since apologised for his “careless language”, was already under fire over plans to cut courses and jobs as part of a restructuring project that aims to save £100 million from the institution’s £420 million annual budget. He then sparked further ire by describing this as “reprioritising” in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The no-confidence motion called on Mr Horrocks to step down as soon as possible to “avoid damage to the public image of the OU”.

“On the basis of recent events, he has shown that he does not understand the university’s teaching model, nor the importance of the OU’s research base,” the motion said.

The emergency branch meeting also passed a motion calling for the withdrawal of the threat of hundreds of redundancies and another calling for the local branch to consult members about possible industrial action.

It comes just days before a specially convened meeting of the university council on 9 April.

“Staff have made it quite clear what they think about the vice-chancellor’s recent behaviour,” said UCU regional official Lydia Richards. “The Open University is a magnificent institution, and it needs someone at the helm who understands its unique position and who will talk up its brilliant staff.

“It’s time for a change at the top and time for a halt to damaging cuts that would destroy the Open University as we know it. We hope for the future of the Open University that council members will recommend a change at the top when they meet on Monday afternoon.”

An OU spokesman said: “We are midway through an ambitious programme to transform the way we teach and support our students so that they have the best preparation for the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

“The plans have sparked a lively internal debate as well as a degree of concern. We can confirm that these concerns will be discussed more thoroughly at a special meeting of the university council and later at the OU’s academic governing body, the senate.”

sophie.inge@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Only UNION members voted. Lydia Richards should make it clear that "our members" not "staff" voted. Many of the staff support Peter Horrocks, but have not been asked their opinion. The problem with the OU is too many people don't understand that radical change is required, or are so set in their ways they can't cope with it. They are complacent and harping back to the past. There is not a limitless pot of money, student numbers are falling, the market is much more competitive and the OU have fallen behind with the use of technology and digital. Instead of working against the university UCU members should face up to the reality and try to work positively to improve things. The unions are contributing to the downfall of the OU with their own agenda.
It's refreshing to read the comment from slspert, and as a recent OU graduate I couldn't agree more. I would add that it's not just the staff and academics who are resistant to change; there is a very negative and vocal contingent of students on social media. They are typically older, have been studying with the OU for over 15 years, and often occupy senior positions within the OU Students Association. They view any proposal for change with extreme negativity: Flexible module start times would never work, and on-line learning hurts the eyes (ironic - since they seem to spend most of their time on Facebook). It isn't surprising that in the 2017 HSS survey "only 44% of OU students feel that the Students Association effectively represents students’ academic interests compared to a sector average of 57%". It's obvious that it will take unpopular actions to save this wonderful institution. However, there are staff and students who understand that these changes are necessary, and will try to make it work.
Why no honesty from either the OU or its critics about its student numbers, old and new. The reported numbers, old and new, count many students who did just one module and then left. They include large numbers, very large numbers of students who never gained a qualification. The fall in 'numbers' is not at all what it seems. No real debate about its future till this is looked at carefully. Stop looking at FTE equivalents, start looking at numbers of people actually completing the qualification they aimed to get. THE and others know all this data, why is nobody reporting or analyzing it?

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