The new vice-chancellor of the Open University has said that a major restructure is just the start of his drive to reshape the organisation.
In an email sent to all staff after little over a month in the job, Peter Horrocks announces plans for an “unprecedented” investment in research, focused in a number of “strategic research areas” which are yet to be announced, and a “substantial” investment in massive open online courses.
The email, which has been seen by Times Higher Education, says that funding will be made available for “rapid curriculum creation” to allow the university to “respond quickly to market opportunities”.
Seven faculties become three
Mr Horrocks, who joined the OU in May, also proposes to merge the seven existing faculties into three larger faculties led by executive deans, and to reduce the number of pro vice-chancellors from three to two.
The restructure is Mr Horrocks’ first opportunity to respond to the collapse in part-time study which has seen the OU lose more than a quarter of its total student numbers over the past five years and run up a £17 million deficit in 2013-14.
Mr Horrocks writes that reducing costs “is not a driver” for the restructure of faculties. Instead, the changes should “give greater priority to the academic voice within management decision-making” and “help the university grow into the more agile, innovative institution” that he believes it needs to become.
Speaking to THE, Mr Horrocks said that he wanted to recapture the spirit that had accompanied the foundation of the OU in 1969. “That was a period of unprecedented innovation, with people who were radical and wanted to upend education,” Mr Horrocks said. “I want us to be as radical and tough with ourselves, prepared to change for the benefit of our students, and also to help drive innovation for the UK higher education sector more generally.”
Mr Horrocks said that he did not expect the restructure to result in job losses extending beyond a programme of voluntary redundancies and a recruitment freeze which were already ongoing. But he said that, if reducing the number of faculties led to opportunities for further efficiencies, these would be considered.
Further changes were likely to follow, Mr Horrocks added.
“It is by no means the end of the changes or the largest changes the university will need in the years ahead,” Mr Horrocks said. “The degree of change there will be in the next five years, I think, will be significantly greater than it has been in the last five years.
“What I want us to do is to be comfortable with rapid changes. It is an exciting world out there and the OU should never be an organisation that is scared of moving rapidly with the times. If that involves more shake-ups, that is what will be needed.”
The restructure comes as Mr Horrocks lobbies the government to tackle the decline in part-time study, calling on MPs to repeal the rule that prevents students accessing loans if they are studying for a qualification that is equivalent to or lower than one that they already hold.
He told THE that he expected the OU to be “close to break-even” this year, with a return to sustainable surpluses planned in the medium term.