More than 50 disgruntled employees of The Open University have signed an open letter expressing “profound concern” about plans to close one of its regional centres.
They say that a decision to close the centre in East Grinstead, combined with plans to review the status of the institution’s other English regional offices, place around 700 jobs – a fifth of the OU’s full-time workforce – at risk.
“The East Grinstead closure is being pushed through against the wishes of the university’s highest academic body, the senate, without a clear business plan and in defiance of previous assurances to staff,” the letter, published today in The Guardian, says.
“Cheaper alternatives to the current building (the lease of which has come up for renewal) have not been properly explored. The university says it will try to relocate the 64 staff to London, but even if posts become available this will not be an affordable option for many colleagues in the south-east.”
It adds that with the results of a review of the other regional centres due next year, there is concern that the OU’s presence in some of England’s main cities is under threat.
“We believe the loss of these regional offices would mark the end of The Open University’s historic mission to be open to people and places everywhere in the UK,” the letter says. “More, it would threaten the OU’s model of ‘blended learning’ where, particularly on first-level courses, online delivery is combined with local tutoring and student support.”
The university currently has 10 regional centres in England (including East Grinstead), with all except London to be subject to the forthcoming OU review.
A spokesman for the university said that the decision to close East Grinstead, which is set to shut its doors by the end of the year, had “not been taken lightly”, and followed plans by the landlord to convert the building into residential accommodation.
“Other premises were prohibitively expensive and the end of the lease presented an opportunity to redirect funding away from property and directly into services for students,” he said.
“We do not expect this move to result in any compulsory redundancies; however there will be the option for staff to be redeployed, relocate or take early retirement or voluntary severance, and we are working to support those affected in assessing their options.”
The separate review of offices across the UK is yet to begin, he continued, adding that it was “completely misleading” to suggest that 700 jobs are at risk. “This review will ensure that we are supporting our students – who now bear the cost of services through fees – in the most effective way possible.”