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Wednesday 16th
posted by Peter Lazenby in Britain

Lecturers’ union slams ‘catastrophic’ plan to axe seven centres

THE government has launched a ferocious attack on one of Labour’s most treasured institutions, the Open University, with plans to close seven regional centres putting nearly 500 jobs at risk.

Thousands of students will be affected after the announcement that centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford are to shut.

The University and College Union (UCU) described the proposals, designed to save cash, as “catastrophic” and warned they would hit vital services such as careers counselling, study advice and support for disabled students.

UCU branch president Pauline Collins said: “The Open University is respected the world over for the way it brings quality higher education to a wide range of people.

“At the core of that mission are its dedicated regional staff, who provide essential support to thousands of students and their tutors.

“Axing almost 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.”

UCU praised the Open University for supporting students with disabilities and from families with little or no academic background. It said the regional centres were “absolutely vital” for students.

UCU members meet today to discuss their next steps. The union said industrial action could not be ruled out.

The Open University was launched in 1969 by the then Labour government and enrolled its first students in 1971.

Its architects were Prime Minister Harold Wilson and academic socialist Michael Young. The plan was implemented by Labour education secretary Jenny Lee.

The Open University offers the opportunity to enter higher education to working-class people, who often cannot afford to give up their jobs to go to normal universities. It does not require applicants to hold specific academic qualifications.

Since its inauguration, millions of working-class people have gained degrees.

First known as the “University of the Air” because it ran distance-learning courses involving home study, the famous institution was mocked by Tory detractors but became one of Labour’s most successful achievements.