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The Open University approves plans to create three larger support centres

The Open University’s governing body has approved the recommendation to create three larger student support centres, resulting in the closure of seven smaller offices around England.

This decision means we can introduce improvements to student support which would not be cost-effective in the current dispersed network of smaller offices. These offices already support students by subject area rather than by student location, which means we are used to supporting our students wherever they live around the UK.

No local services to students, including individual support for disabled students, will be withdrawn. The overwhelming majority of our students do not visit a regional office. The vast majority of our requests for support come to us via email or telephone. The changes will speed up the time it takes to deal with enquiries and will extend our support to students beyond the normal working day.

The Open University remains in a strong financial position with healthy reserves but these changes come against a backdrop of significant change in the university sector. This change will improve the University’s operational effectiveness while using its resources more efficiently – an important outcome given likely further reductions in government support for higher education. Institutions like ours no longer receive the same level of funding from government, and we rely on the income from the fees our students pay. This is a significant change for the University, however the OU has always strived to adapt to the changing needs of its students and the environment it operates in.

Around 500 members of staff are directly affected by this change and we acknowledge that this is a difficult time for them. Our priority is to support them fully. We aim to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible by offering the option to relocate, take voluntary severance or early retirement. All staff in affected locations have guaranteed employment until at least 31 January 2017. Of the 500 approx posts, around 130 are academic posts which we expect will work from another location or from home. There will be no reduction in the support for students. There will be a carefully managed plan to transition the work and knowledge into the three larger offices which will also take into account the need to maintain our networks around the UK.

The problem this decision will address is one of structure, it is not a reflection on the quality of work of our staff. 

We will now enter a period of consultation with unions. We wish to work constructively with unions and feel that industrial action will not benefit the staff affected or our hard-working students.

Peter Horrocks, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said:

This is an important decision for the University and its students as it means we can now introduce much-needed improvements to our student support services - something which simply isn’t possible across dispersed, smaller offices. No local services to students, including individual support for disabled students, will be withdrawn, however we recognise the impact this will have on affected staff.  Our priority now is to maintain and improve services for our hard-working students while supporting our staff as we start to implement these changes.