YOUR report that the head of the Open University (OU) had resigned following a revolt by the staff did not go into the reasons underlying this dramatic turn of events ("Head of the Open University resigns", The Herald, April 14). Under Peter Horrocks’s leadership, the OU was planning to cut the number of degree programmes it offers by more than one-third, shrink its staff by one-quarter through redundancies, and reduce the scope of its research in an effort to reduce costs by more than a quarter. These drastic plans came after several years of retrenchment by the OU, which saw the closure of many English regional centres and a steep decline in student satisfaction. This sorry state of affairs is in large part the consequence of the collapse in numbers of part-time students in England since 2008, especially after fees were substantially increased in 2012. The OU in England has lost one-third of its students, from a high of 158,000 in 2008-9 to under 100,000 today. In contrast, the numbers of students in Scotland, where fees were not hiked up, have remained constant at about 15,000 throughout this period.

These grim facts matter. The gradual decline of the OU in England represents a narrowing of access to higher education, particularly for people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and a reduction in opportunities for social mobility and self-advancement through study. The planned reduction of the range of OU degrees available is a blow to lifelong and curiosity-led learning throughout the UK.

In Scotland, the crisis at the OU has wider implications. The OU, as originally conceived in 1969 by Jennie Lee and Harold Wilson, was the best-ever advertisement for a benign, progressive Union. Its unique educational model, predicated on economies of scale that could not readily be achieved in Scotland alone, enabled it to prosper as a much-loved UK-wide institution, operating for the benefit of all, from the Scilly Isles to Shetland. As this once-great asset of the Union withers, Scotland, with its commitment to free higher education, has become the last redoubt for these generous ideals.

Paddy Farrington,

46 Marchmont Road, Edinburgh.