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Chris Williams @Chris_A_W
, 39 tweets, 13 min read Read on Twitter
I'm worried about the future of my employer, @OpenUniversity, under its Vice-Chancellor, @PeterHorrocks.

Part one of a series of posts explaining why I think there's about to be another crisis in UK HE. 1/x
The most important alarm bell: HoC Education SC, Feb 21st 2018, @PeterHorrocks answers a question about his salary, justifying it thus: "We are going to have to carry out the largest restructuring redundancy programme ever in UK university history" 2/x
parliament.uk/business/commi…
This announcement by @PeterHorrocks didn't surprise me (though the salary context did) because he'd already said to the Guardian in Nov 2017 that he was planning "many, many hundreds of job losses in the university". 3/x
theguardian.com/higher-educati…
This softening-up process has been justified by @PeterHorrocks in terms of the fall in part time student numbers following the introduction of full fees, and an associated financial crisis at the @OpenUniversity. This explanation makes sense in theory, it's just . . . 4/x
When we look at the OU's finances -- available here: open.ac.uk/about/main/str…‐and‐policies/annual‐reports [needs copying and pasting, soz] where is the hole? In 2008, before the crisis, OU's financial reserves stood at £210m. So, where are they now? 5/x
In 2017 they were £457m. If all current income dried up, the @OpenUniversity can operate on its reserves for 276 days -- a tasty example of successful prudence, and a significant overshoot of the 180-day target. Well done! 6/x
(more to come later after tea).
It's not as rosy as that. Numbers _are_ down: in 2012 (when reserves were at £409m) we topped out at 86,200 FTE students. 2017, we only had 65,700. This is a decline, but it was still a tad cheeky of @PeterHorrocks to not mention these numbers to the Select Committee, instead 7/x
[Intermission . . . time to enjoy . . . the OU remains, as of today, the best university on the planet. It's in long-term danger, but for its undergrad students it will last at least 6 more years. Thinking of signing up with the OU? _Do it_! OU students are the best.] 8/x
In describing the pressure on the OU to the SC, to justify his decision to shed staff, @PeterHorrocks said this was "as a result of this dramatic fall of 60% in part-time study". This is the decline for UK HE as a whole, not for the OU: 65k is not 40% of 86k. Cheeky. 9/x
But this approach is SOP for cutting Universities to make them more marketised and neoliberal.
1) There's an external threat on the way
2) It will destroy us unless we do something
3) This is something
4) Therefore we must do this!
If you are in #USS, does this ring bells? 10/x
The language of inevitability is powerful, and perhaps because management need to use it close to home, the @OpenUniversity is taking a hard line with the #USSstrikes. The OU is _not_ one of the many #UUK institutions admitting the valuation was sketchy #SaveOpenUni 11/x
This is all bit relentless, so I will post a link to the video of PSB's classic 'Spitfire'.

"It's tiring always stretching out for something that's just out of reach, but I'll get it. After all, what I want isn't as easy as all that. " 12/x

[Good news, -- the OU's director of Comms* has just said that I've been 'mischievous and misleading'. If I'm being 'misleading', maybe the OU is rolling back the threatened job cuts? Hope so!

*a good egg, runs a great department, is doing his job: not for blaming.] 13/x
But it's complicated. Coming soon:
1) The 'threat' of HEFCE?
2) The role of FutureLearn
3) Disrupting our way to the 'University of the Cloud'?

The OU is the best university on the planet and even worst-case scenarios won't impact 2018 entrants. OU students are the best. 14/x
HEFCE: the steamroller? There’s nothing like an inexorable external threat to galvanise support for a massive CV-polishing change programme, whether it’s TPR, Charter Renewal, the end of the FCO grant, or HEFCE. And sometimes, (FCO) there really _is_ a steamroller. 15/x
The threat which has been communicated to OU staff is that if we are in deficit for 3 years in a row, HEFCE can intervene. We’ve been about £5-10m down in about 3 of the last 5 years, so this is _not_ an imagined threat. There’s a steamroller, but is it revving up? 16/x
I would like to apologise for the steamroller metaphor in this thread. Also, I'm being a bit vague about the numbers. This is deliberate because lots of them have one-off caveats attached to them. I hope that ballpark figures are enough: accounts are linked upthread. 17/x
Are HEFCE gunning for us? What worries them? Their most recent report singled out “Reducing surpluses and cash levels, and a rise in borrowing,” as the threat, not universities with significant reserves running small deficits. The OU is not in debt. 18/x
hefce.ac.uk/pubs/year/2017…
The other big systemic threat which HEFCE worry about is the precarious nature of the lucrative non-EU student market. We’re hardly in that one at all, though: no threats here. Let's celebrate that autarky with an apposite tune. 19/x
So what is the problem? How come we’ve got nearly half a billion pounds in the bank but we’re not laughing all the way to it, instead planning on responding to a crisis? How come we are planning to cut c.£100m from annual costs, not the £10m which would fend off HEFCE? 20/x
Bloke walks into pub: “Get me a double brandy quick, before the trouble starts!” Barman puts it down, bloke necks it. “Another!” Same again. “Another, quick, before the trouble starts!” Necks that too “What’s the trouble?”, asks the barman.

“I haven’t got any money.”

21/x
Next year’s predicted deficit isn’t £10m, though: it looks awful. Why is this? Because the OU is going to have to cover the cost of the massive reorganisation. Why do we _need_ the reorganisation? Because of the predicted deficit, of course. #TINA. #Kafka. #savetheOU. 22/x
(I can’t go into as much detail as I know because this is a public forum: but I think I’ll probably be OK if I stick to general terms. If not, I will try and invoke the strong free-speech clauses currently in the OU’s Statutes (of which, more later).) 23/x
I think that the OU's IT systems, which have served us well, are in need of replacement, reasonably soon. This is going to cost a chunk of cash. Couldn't we use the reserves to do this? Isn't this kind of one-off recapitalisation what they are for? If not, what are they for? 24/x
I think some of it is about fashionable ideology. OU must invest in new systems: but the current neolib managers are unwilling to countenance their future, (as was their past), being wedded to a complex organisation which relies on specialist human capital to function. 25/x
I have unfashionable love for the benefits of bureaucracy, and love the @OpenUniversity's Fordist effectiveness (we are one of the most efficient UK HEIs, and cheapest as well as best). Alas! this vision is not shared by my leaders, nor by their advisers from KPMG and E&Y 26/x
The neoliberal dream -- a university whose staff are as proletarianised and/or as casualised as possible, so as to compete with other bodies under the same pressure – enchants them. After all, if we don’t like it, we can (as the VC told an OU unit last week) leave. 29/x
NB: all you academics from other HEIs about to say "Just be academics, then!" -- we can't. We're different. We have, and will always have, far more academic-related, support and admin staff compared to other HEIs. This is good. Time for a reviving Harold Wilson meme. 30/x
Update: the voluntary severance scheme has started, but I don't think that this is as important as today's tweets which are about 'disruption' and the 'university of the cloud'.
Here's an interesting message from the VC of Cambridge to set the tone: cam.ac.uk/news/the-futur…
We interrupt this thread to bring you a report from the 'Guardian'. #SaveOpenUni #savetheOU 33/x Open University plans major cuts to number of staff and courses

theguardian.com/education/2018…
Sorry about the hiatus. Let's just say that I've needed to check the content of those 'right to free speech' clauses in the OU's statutes. I think I'm still covered. Relevant bit of the OU Charter coming up. Survived Thatcher, it did. 34/x
"advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge by teaching and research by a diversity of means such as broadcasting and technological devices appropriate to higher education, by correspondence tuition, residential courses and seminars and in other relevant ways" 35/x
"and shall be to provide education of University and professional standards for its students and to promote the educational well-being of the community generally" Yeah baby! 37/x
We still do this. Govt funding and regs mean it's harder now to run so many residential schools. I'm the guy who proposed we cut the History one, because it wasn't delivering to enough students and the capacity was better used elsewhere. I am _not_ the No Change Guy. 38/x.
If you're following this and lots of other tweets and emails about the threat to the OU, remember:
1. It's not a done deal
2. There is no threat to close any more offices entirely
3. It's still the best, and core undergrad provision will survive another 6 years. SIGN UP! 39/x
Time for a tune about one of my role models. He built spaceships, by building institutions. 40/x
This has been a good thread. I had plans to take it further but I'm worried that I might end up overstepping the mark and leave myself vulnerable to management. So long as @GordonMarsden and @SamGyimah read it, my work is done 41/x
Ultimate tweet, then: although I am deeply worried about the @OpenUniversity's long-term prospects, the medium-term prospects are good enough, and right now it's the best university on the planet. I've been saying this for 15 years: I never want to have to stop saying it. 42/42
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