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Petition against Open University regional closures to be presented ahead of council meeting

23 November 2015 | last updated: 10 December 2015

UCU members at the Open University will present a 6400-strong petition opposing the closure of seven regional centres to the university's pro-chancellor Richard Gillingwater ahead of a crucial council meeting at the Milton Keynes campus on Tuesday.

The current proposals would result in the closure of offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford, leading to a loss of 502 jobs. Under the plans, 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 would remain open.

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.

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

The controversial plans are due to be discussed again at the university's Council meeting tomorrow morning at 10.00am. The petition will be presented to pro-vice chancellor Richard Gillingwater at 9.45am ahead of the meeting.

UCU members will be lobbying Council members at the Milton Keynes campus from 9.00am in the green space outside Walton Hall and the Hub cafeteria (see map here). However, the university is continuing its bizarre policy of allowing only 10 people to lobby Council members at any one time. UCU said that the decision will lead to a repeat of farcical scenes outside last month's Senate meeting, 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 members have also called a one-day walkout across all Open University sites on Wednesday 25 November unless the plans are halted, with further rolling one-day strikes at the different sites to begin on 30 November*. The strikes will be the first time staff have taken action over a local dispute in the university's history.

UCU regional official, Lydia Richards, said: 'The support for this petition clearly shows that these plans are misguided and need to be reconsidered. The university Senate shares our concerns and clearly rejected the closure plans last month, so it's now time for the university to row back from these proposals which would have a serious impact on students and staff alike.

'It's frankly bizarre that the university is continuing to allow only 10 people to demonstrate at once; staff have a right to raise their legitimate concerns and treating them like this is an insult to the 502 people who are worried they might be losing their job.

'Strike action is always a last resort, but our members are clear that these proposals are absolutely unacceptable and they will be left with no choice if the plans are given the green flag at tomorrow's meeting.'

* Staff whose employment is connected to each regional centre will take further strike action on the following dates:

Monday 30 November: Birmingham 

Tuesday 1 December: London

Wednesday 2 December: Oxford 

Thursday 3 December: Leeds 

Friday 4 December: Gateshead 

Monday 7 December: Cambridge

Tuesday 8 December: Bristol 

Wednesday 9 December: Nottingham

Thursday 10 December: Manchester

Friday 11 December: BelfastCardiffEdinburgh and Milton Keynes national offices

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