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The Open University (OU) is a distance learning university which has students all over the UK and accepted its first students in 1971. The administration is based at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire although it has offices in each region of the UK. It also has over 25,000 students studying overseas. It awards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and diplomas and certificates.
With over 200,000 students enrolled (in 2003), it is the largest academic institution in the UK, and qualifies as one of the world's mega universities. Since it was founded, over 3 million students have studied its courses.
The OU aims to provide a University for those wishing to pursue higher education on a part-time or distance learning basis, including disabled people, who are officially a priority group within the University. The British Government asked the Open University to continue the work of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) when it was dissolved. The CNAA formerly awarded degrees at the polytechnics which have since become universities.
The Open University was founded by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, based on the vision of Michael Young (later Lord Young of Dartington). Planning commenced in 1965 under Minister of State for Education Jennie Lee Ashridge, who lead an advisory committee consistsing of university vice-chancellors, educationalists and broadcasters.
Walter Perry (later Lord Perry) was appointed the OU's first vice-chancellor in January 1969. A new Conservative Heath government in 1970 led to the budget cuts under Chancellor of the Exchequer Iain Macleod (who had earlier called the idea of an Open University "blithering nonsense"). However the OU accepted its first 25,000 students in 1971, adopting a radical open entry policy and, for a university, radical teaching methods. The total 'traditional' University population in the UK was around 130,000.
Since its foundation, the OU has inspired many other similar institutions around the world.
People from all walks of life and all ages take advantage of the OU; there are no entry requirements other than the ability to study at an appropriate level.
The University is popular with those who cannot physically attend a traditional university (because they are disabled, abroad, in prison, or serving in the armed forces) or who wish to study a first (or additional) degree while holding down a full time job/looking after family members, whether to progress their career or allow them to change their career. Approximately 75% of students are in full time employment in addition to studying.
Due to the reduction in financial support for students attending traditional universities, the OU is also attracting first time undergraduates who can study at home in a cost efficient way. Around 11% of undergraduates are under 25 years old (2003 intake). The OU works with some schools to introduce A Level students to OU study.
In the 1970s, TV was typically used to provide lectures, and the image of the OU lecturer in brown-kipper tie and flared cord trouser became something of a national icon. OU programmes are generally now much more innovative using documentary styles.
Teaching at the OU is rated as "excellent" by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.
An OU undergraduate degree requires 300 points (360 for honours), with each course being attributed a number of points (usually 30 or 60) depending on the content. Courses are also rated as levels 1, 2 or 3, roughly equating to first, second and third year courses at traditional universities. Students generally do not undertake more than 60 points per year, meaning that an undergraduate degree will take at least six years to complete. With the exception of some degrees in fast moving areas (such as computing) there is generally no limit on the time which a student may take, although courses cannot be counted after a great number of years. 120 points is considered the equivalent of full-time study.
Many OU faculties have now introduced short courses worth 10 points. These courses start on different dates throughout the year and typically provide an introduction to their subject studied over a period of ten weeks.
The Open University Business School, founded in 1983, is the largest provider of MBAs in the UK, producing more graduates by itself than the total of the remaining business schools in the UK. Its courses are recognised by AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB.
Although the majority of students at the Business School are in the UK the courses are also available to students across Europe and in Asia.
Like other UK universities, the OU actively engages in research. The OU's Planetary Sciences Research Institute has become particularly well known to the public through the Beagle 2 Mars space probe project led by Professor Colin Pillinger, head of the Institute.
The OU now employs over 500 people engaged in research in over 25 areas, and there are over 1,200 research students. It spends approximately £20 million each year on research, around £6 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the remainder from external funders.
See Educating Rita for a fictional treatment of the OU
- The Open University Website
- The Open University Business School
- BBCi Open University Information
- COROUS – Corporate Open University Services