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Anger as Open University bans protest against job losses and office closures

13 October 2015

Union says 'protest merry-go-round' ahead of crucial meeting is an insult to the 502 staff whose jobs are at risk.

Staff at the Open University have described the university's decision to ban a rally opposing plans to axe 502 jobs in seven regional offices as an 'insult' to staff facing redundancy.

The controversial plans are due to be discussed at a key Senate meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon at 2pm. The Senate represents the academic oversight of the organisation and members of the University and College Union (UCU) were hoping to hold a rally outside before the meeting and then lobby Senate members as they turned up.

However, the university said that any protest had to be limited to 10 people at any one time. UCU said the decision rendered any protest ineffective and would lead to farcical scenes where 10 members went out to try and lobby Senate members for an allotted period of time before being replaced by another 10 colleagues.

UCU OU branch president Pauline Collins said: 'The Open University's decision to clamp down on dissent in this way is quite bizarre. We will be in the farcical position of running a sort of protest merry-go-round where 10 protestors get on when another 10 get off. Treating staff like this is an insult to the 502 people who are worried they might be losing their job.

'We wanted to be able to draw attention to what was happening and make sure we put our side across to members of the Senate before their meeting. Axing over 500 staff across seven centres would be catastrophic and decimate the Open University's ability to provide the kind of local support that students need.'

The protest tomorrow will start at 1pm when 10 members of staff at a time will be permitted to enter the green space outside Walton Hall and the Hub cafeteria. See map here. UCU said the university's decision was likely to cause more problems than if it had allowed the protest to simply go ahead in the square, as staff waiting their turn to lobby Senate members would be more likely to block passageways.

The seven affected centres, with 502 staff in total, are:

  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • Gateshead
  • Leeds
  • London
  • Oxford

Thousands of current and potential students could be affected by the move, which would see the removal of vital services, such as careers counselling, study advice and support for disabled students.

The plans would leave only the main Open University site in Milton Keynes along with regional centres in Manchester and Nottingham and national ones in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. UCU said to lose such huge amounts of expertise would be a devastating blow and questioned why so many centres were being hit at the same time.

The shortest journey for any of the affected staff to their next nearest centre is from Oxford to Milton Keynes at 40 miles. Staff in Gateshead would have to endure an unfeasible five-hour round trip of 250 miles to their nearest centre in Edinburgh.

Last updated: 10 December 2015