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Open University staff back strike action in row over regional centre closures plan

5 November 2015

Staff at the Open University have backed strike action for the first time in its history in an increasingly bitter row over job losses and the closure of regional offices.

Three-quarters (72%) of members of the University and College Union (UCU) who voted backed strike action. Eight in ten (83%) supported action short of a strike, which could include things like working to contract. Members will meet next week to decide their next steps in the dispute.

The seven centres earmarked for closure are in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford. However if staff decide to take action, UCU members will also walk out from Open University offices in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, Manchester and Nottingham.

UCU members at the Open University have previously taken strike action in national campaigns over pay and pensions. However, things have never got so bad that they have had to walk out in a local dispute.

The university wants to shut down seven regional centres with the loss of 502 jobs. The ballot results adds further pressure on the university ahead of a crunch council meeting on Tuesday 24 November where council members will vote on the controversial plans.

The plans have been widely criticised by staff, students and MPs. Last month members the university's senate rejected the plans describing them as "very high risk" and saying that they "failed to support the academic mission of the university". 

UCU said to lose such huge amounts of expertise would be a devastating blow and has questioned why so many centres are 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.

A petition against the closures has already received over 6,000 signatures and Bassetlaw MP John Mann has 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: 'The only people who still seem to think that axing 500 jobs and closing down seven regional Open University centres is a good idea are the senior managers. We have been overwhelmed by the support from students, former students and even MPs in our campaign.

'The academic body at the university rejected the plans at its senate meeting last month and now the staff have given an overwhelming mandate for strike action at the Open University for the first time in its history.

'We hope the managers will now see sense and work with us to deliver changes that will not be so devastating for the staff, students or future of the Open University.'

Last updated: 21 June 2021