Posted tagged ‘Open University’

Open and shut?

March 26, 2018

People of my generation, and perhaps of my night time tendency to be awake, will probably have memories of the Open University as a provider of sometimes rather dry lectures on this and that academic subject in the late hours, occasionally with rather dodgy background sets. I was never an Open University student, but I watched a lot of Open University programmes on the BBC.

But for many people, the Open University was not something so casual. It was a key part of the then government’s drive to democratise education and create a more productive economy, with Prime Minister Harold Wilson as the key driver of this policy. Generations of students, many of whom would previously have had little opportunity to get a university degree, were now able to avail of higher education in conditions they could manage.

Now it appears that all of that may be at risk. As part of a major cost-cutting exercise to ensure the institution has a sustainable business model, measures are being taken which, according to some staff, will leave the OU as a digital online provider of higher education. Significant faculty dissent is being expressed, and some have asked whether the institution as a whole may now be vulnerable.

I have no standing to express a view on the rights and wrongs of current measures proposed in the OU. But I can say that the Open University pioneered an approach to higher education that has been of immense social and pedagogical importance, and that while the university system as a whole has changed enormously since 1969, the OU is still a vital part of it. Indeed the model has been copied elsewhere, as in the case for example of the University of South Africa (UNISA), which like the OU has gained an international footprint.

It is of real importance that the Open University continues to exist and to thrive.

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A new direction for higher education?

July 10, 2010

If you want to learn something at a higher education level but don’t have the time, inclination or money to apply to a university, then you could do worse than head for iTunes and enter ‘iTunes U’ (you’ll find it at the lower left corner of the windows inside the iTunes store). Here you can download and study amazing subjects, generally for free. For example, one course I have just enjoyed is Art and Art History offered by Oakland University in Michigan. Next I am thinking about doing a course in DNA offered by Britain’s Open University.

In fact, the Open University has been a particular success story on iTunes U. Its portfolio there has now recorded more than 20 million downloads. Some of these are not necessarily advanced intellectual programmes – the most popular is, apparently, beginner’s French – but nevertheless the OU’s success shows that higher education is now reaching a target population by all sorts of unexpected ways. For many of those in universities the assumption still is that most of our customers want to do whatever they need to do in order to get a formal qualification. But we must be open to the reality that many just want to learn, and we must welcome this.

This, too, is another way in which the nature, purpose and methodology of higher education is changing, and changing fast. We need to ensure that we are part of this movement.