Staff to vote on future of beleaguered Open University chief

29 March 2018 | last updated: 9 April 2018

Staff at the Open University will vote on a motion calling for the vice-chancellor to resign immediately

UCU members have been asked to attend an emergency meeting on Thursday 5 April to discuss vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks's future and vote on a motion of no-confidence that calls on him to resign immediately.*

Horrocks is under fire for plans to cut courses by a third and axe hundreds of staff, which UCU said would 'destroy' the institution and reduce it to a 'digital content provider'.

UCU said his already difficult position became untenable after a series of 'insulting' interviews. Last week Horrocks told the Today Programme (2:49) that the cuts were not cuts, they were 'reprioritising' and then, in an exchange with students this week, he accused Open University academics of 'not teaching'.

UCU said it did not feel Horrocks could command the respect or authority of staff or the university Council after the latest incidents. The union likened his attack on Open University academics to the time Gerald Ratner described one of his company's products as 'total crap'.

UCU regional official Lydia Richards said: 'The vice-chancellor's position now looks untenable and UCU members will vote next week on a motion calling on him to go immediately. His cuts would destroy the Open University as we know it and for him to dismiss axing hundreds of staff as reprioritising is really insulting.

'To follow all that up by attacking his own staff looks like something straight out of the Gerald Ratner handbook. We want a halt to the cuts and a full investigation into how these proposals have been arrived at. We have no confidence in the vice-chancellor or that there has been proper scrutiny in developing these plans.

'The Open University is a fantastic institution with a proud reputation built on the hard work of the staff and its innovative approach to higher education. We need senior staff to be talking it up, not attacking academics or dismissing serious cuts.'

* The motion

We have always been open to positive and evidence-based change in delivering innovative learning for our students. This executive meeting has no confidence in either the 'Students First Transformation Project' or the current vice-chancellor of the Open University. We call upon Council to halt this programme and ask the vice-chancellor to resign immediately.

We note that the vice-chancellor has publicly undermined the institution by: 

  • failing to understand its teaching model or research base
  • denigrating central academics to the student body
  • pushing ahead with a detrimental change programme that is not required by the university's financial position and in which staff have lost trust
  • creating stress and uncertainty for staff and students by announcing job losses and curriculum cuts on an unnecessary scale.

We call upon Council urgently to take steps to pay heed to Open University staff expertise and strengthen democratic representative structures in the university.

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