University staff to stage second walkout over closure plans that put 49 Leeds jobs at risk

A second one-day walkout over plans to close the regional Open University (OU) centre in Leeds will take place tomorrow.

The Leeds skyline.
The Leeds skyline.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are striking following the university’s plans to close seven regional centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford.

The UCU claims plans to close the centres have put 502 jobs at risk, including 49 in Leeds, which it fears could affect thousands of students working towards qualifications.

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A picket, which follows a national strike last Wednesday, is planned for outside OU’s Trevelyan Square offices from 7.30am.

The strikes are the first time staff have walked out over a local dispute in the university’s history.

UCU Open University branch president Pauline Collins said: “Closing seven regional centres will lead to chaos for students and staff alike. If the Leeds centre closes, the university will lose its visible presence in Yorkshire and all the local expertise which has been built up by staff working here.

“Nobody wants to take strike action, but we have no alternative. These closures are opposed by staff, students, and politicians alike. The university needs to listen to our concerns and urgently reconsider its position.”

The OU has said no services to students would be withdrawn and it hopes some staff will move with them to three larger centres.

Last week OU vice chancellor Peter Horrocks said while the Leeds office had done “a magnificent job over the years” it was part of a structure from a past era as students now pick up the phone or send an email if they need support.

He said: “It’s important to say upfront that we’re naturally very sorry that these plans could lead to the loss of some great staff. Indeed, we hope that as many as possible will be able to move with their jobs to the three larger centres we’re creating. But ultimately, this is about supporting our students who will see an improvement in the level of service they receive.

He added: “The main purpose of these centres isn’t to provide space for tutorials or exams, these already happen in local schools or colleges. When students have queries about their course, or financial matters, they already get advice from expert, subject-based teams who could be located anywhere in the country. The team in the Leeds office, for example, is just as likely to respond to a query from someone in Exeter as it is from someone up the road in York.”