The OU is the latest of our great institutions to suffer from short-term thinking
One by one, the great institutions that bind Britain together are being allowed to fray, weaken and decline. They may do good and even vital work, but whatever their purpose – from the system of legal aid to the Open University – they are under siege. Britain might be substantially richer than it was 40 or 50 years ago but the national narrative is that organisations once energetic and growing are now unaffordable. The overriding moral imperative is to lower allegedly insupportable taxation, not to create public goods or sustain the institutions that bind.
Last week, it was the Open University that was in the news as its beleaguered vice-chancellor resigned after a mere three years in the role. He may have been right about the necessity to re-engineer the institution, to refocus it on lifelong learning and find savings, given the 20% fall in its income. But the scale of the proposed redundancies – more than a quarter of the workforce – felt to the academics and the wider staff swingeing. There was too little valuation of research, a crucial component of any university. There may have to be change, but not to put the very idea of the OU at risk.
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