Open University strike ballot opens as academic body rejects job loss plans

15 October 2015 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Staff at the Open University are being balloted for strike action in an increasingly bitter row over job losses and the closure of regional offices. The ballot opens today and closes on Thursday 5 November.

The university wants to shut down seven regional centres with the loss of 502 jobs. Ahead of their ballot, staff received a boost last night as the university's Senate rejected the plans, which would result in the closure of offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford.

Members of the Senate backed motions* describing the university's plans as "very high risk" and failing to support the academic mission of the university.  The Senate, which represents the academic oversight of the institution voted by 41 to 31 to advise that the plans be rejected, with nine members abstaining, and called on the university to explore other options.

UCU said to lose such huge amounts of expertise would be a devastating blow and has questioned why so many centres were being hit at the same time. Staff in the local offices evaluate and support students with disabilities, provide course materials, assign tutorial groups, run examination arrangements, advise on study options and manage the hugely popular degree ceremonies.

The university had already faced heavy criticism ahead of last night's meeting after it was revealed that a ham-fisted attempt to drown out dissent had resulted in a bizarre "protest merry-go-round", where only 10 protestors at a time were allowed into the campus's main square to lobby Senate members.

A petition against the closures has already received over 4,600 signatures and earlier this week Bassetlaw MP John Mann tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons that opposes the closure of the regional centres.

UCU Open University branch president Pauline Collins said: 'After yesterday's bizarre attempt to drown out dissent at the Open University, we feel we have little alternative now but to ballot for strike action. Despite the university's best efforts to stop us putting our case to Senate members, we are delighted that they have joined us and advised against the plans for such devastating cuts.

'Axing over 500 staff across seven centres would be catastrophic to the Open University's ability to provide the kind of support that students need. We hope the university will now see sense and work with us to find a better solution for staff, students and the future of the Open University.'

* The senate motions:

a) Advises the Council to reject the current recommendation (option 5c) of the Locations Review on the grounds that it is operationally and reputationally very high risk and fails adequately to support the academic mission of the university.

b) Advises VCE to explore further the other options modelled, seeking additional advice and guidance from the academic faculties, ALs and OUSA, in order to achieve a structure that effectively supports that mission.

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