Spending review could drive the OU to shut doors of its regional centres

Executives look at 'cost-saving opportunities' as cuts hit other institutions, writes Melanie Newman

June 11, 2009

The Open University is considering closing up to eight of its regional centres in a move that coincides with a further swath of cuts at other institutions.

A leaked document from OU executives outlines a study of "cost-saving opportunities", with a reduction in the number of centres from 13 to five among the options on the table.

The document says there is "no assumption" that the number of locations will be reduced, but Roger Walters, president of the University and College Union at the OU, said the review was "a complete surprise and shock".

"I am astonished that at a time when the OU needs to improve its competitive position and public visibility throughout the country, the university should be contemplating even the remote possibility of reducing the number of regional centres," he said.

Will Swann, the OU's director for students, said government cuts to funding of students taking second degrees meant the university had to reduce overheads.

He said the plans would proceed only if the study found that costs could be reduced without damaging quality. The university's science faculty is also considering slashing the number of its 17 residential summer schools, raising concerns that its science degree programmes will no longer offer suitable practical skills in all disciplines.

Meanwhile, up to 37 staff are at risk at Coventry University as a result of reorganisation and the loss of external funding sources. The jobs may go within four months.

Martin Machon, the UCU regional official, said Coventry was "not considering any question of redeployment or increasing revenue."

A university spokesman said the changes were "part of normal business, indeed the university continues to be successful and will be declaring a surplus this year".

He added: "For the UCU to claim that the university is not considering redeployment is untrue. The university has embarked upon a rigorous consultation and redeployment process as fully agreed with all our unions."

Staff at the University of Leeds are also facing cuts, with 60 jobs at risk in the faculty of biological sciences, which has a recurring deficit of £4.3 million, union sources said.

At least 20 additional staff are to go in Leeds' nursing and midwifery training unit, on top of 19 staff who have already left under a voluntary severance scheme.

A spokesman said the reductions "amount to no more than 1 per cent of our workforce, and we are working with the unions to try to effect them through voluntary means".

Its neighbour Leeds Metropolitan University is another institution looking to make cuts, but a proposed voluntary redundancy scheme is to be confined to support staff and researchers.

In a letter to staff, Steve Pashley, director of human resources, said academics "engaged predominantly in teaching" would not be affected.

Finally, the University of the West of England is turning away students already accepted on to joint honours degree courses in French, Spanish and Chinese for the next academic year following a decision to close the languages department.

Up to 30 members of staff will be affected by the decision, which the UCU claims was taken without consultation.

A university spokesman said UWE had seen a progressive decline in the number of students wanting to study certain languages.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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