The closure of most of its Regional Centres is probably the biggest change in the OU since the introduction of e-teaching and will have equally far-reaching effects. My first concern is for the many staff who simply cannot re-locate and will have to leave. This is not only a great personal misfortune for them but will be a huge loss of expertise and knowledge to the OU. I hope the change will be well-managed otherwise very damaging problems will rapidly ensue.
But what will be the repercussions of this move on student retention? I presume that the savings (when they finally emerge) are to be devoted in part to enhancing the Student Support Teams, but I still remain a sceptic that this will have a substantial effect on student dropout.
The biggest cause of the OU’s current 13% graduation rate is dropout between courses – some 60% of new students fail to progress onto a second module. This of course is the critical point at which the SST’s are meant to have an effect. But study is an intensely personal and emotional process and needs personal and individual support. One of the reasons that in-course dropout is comparatively low at 30-40% is because AL’s provide that personal and individual support. I just find it hard to believe that students – especially at the critical first to second course transition – will feel that that are getting that personal and individual support from a team. The signs are already poor – a recent report (‘Snowball’ 2015) on the UK’s National Student Survey results noted that “OU managers will be disappointed that, after the first full year of student support teams, the university rating has slipped 31 places to 136th (out of 157 UK universities) for ‘Good advice was available when I needed to make study choices’”.
Until the OU finds a way of ‘personalising’ not just support within a module, but support between modules, graduation rates will continue to drop and the savings from the closure of Regional Centres will prove to be illusory.