Open University v-c faces no-confidence vote

Peter Horrocks faces backlash over claim that academics ‘should be bloody well teaching’

March 29, 2018
Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor, The Open University

Staff at The Open University will vote on a motion calling for the immediate resignation of its vice-chancellor after he claimed that the institution’s distance learning model had allowed academics “to get away with not being teachers for decades”.

The distance learning institution’s University and College Union branch will hold an emergency meeting on 5 April where staff will vote on a motion of no confidence in Peter Horrocks.

The vice-chancellor’s role is also set to be discussed at a special meeting of the university council on 9 April and later by the OU senate on 18 April.

Last week, Mr Horrocks told OU students during a filmed discussion that scholars at the institution’s Milton Keynes headquarters “should be bloody well teaching, they should be teaching directly”, rather than simply preparing teaching materials.

“It’s ridiculous that they’re spoken about as teaching when they are writing, that’s not teaching,” Mr Horrocks said. “And they used to teach in residential [universities] and this university has allowed central academics to get away with not being teachers for decades.”

His comments sparked a furious backlash from staff, with one OU professor branding them “an attack on OU staff and the institution itself”.

In a message to staff, Mr Horrocks apologised for his “careless language”, adding that he had “overstepped” the mark and that his comments “did not show appropriate respect”.

Mr Horrocks has already faced criticism 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, and for describing this as “reprioritising” in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

UCU regional official Lydia Richards said that Mr Horrocks, a former director of the BBC World Service, was in an “untenable” position.

“His cuts would destroy The Open University as we know it and for him to dismiss axeing hundreds of staff as reprioritising is really insulting,” Ms Richards said. “To follow all that up by attacking his own staff looks like something straight out of the Gerald Ratner handbook [referring to the chairman of a jewellery chain who described his products as ‘total crap’].”

Ms Richards added: “The Open University is a fantastic institution with a proud reputation built on the hard work of the staff and its innovative approach to higher education. We need senior staff to be talking it up, not attacking academics or dismissing serious cuts.”

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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