Large-scale widening access partnership work with colleges, schools, community-based organisations, unions and employers is a significant component of the Widening Participation strategy outlined in OU Futures Scotland. These partners in the most cases are interested in short access modules as the first step into HE study and our core WP activity focuses on enhanced presentation of Openings modules, maximising mainstream resources whilst drawing on the additional support offered by partner organisations. The relationship between the locally based OU project worker and the partner link person is a key to the success of this programme of activity.
In alignment with Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council priorities, rural students are also a key WP priority. Here, networks of Openings students across a particular geographical area, are supported by a local project worker who provides study and progression advice.
In 2010-11 around 1,000 students studied with the OU in Scotland through WP partnerships and networks.
The Open University in Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress signed a formal memorandum of understanding in June 2007. The agreement highlighted a shared commitment to lifelong learning and to increasing educational opportunity. One strand of the partnership work that has developed since then is the development of the OU in Scotland’s community partnership model to support the delivery of Openings courses to groups of union members in workplace settings. This initiative has been supported by funding for student fees from Scottish Union Learning which is supported by the Scottish Government and the European Social Fund. Since autumn 2009 there have been 210 student enrolments on Openings courses in sixteen workplaces from Dumfries in the south- west to Inverness in the north. Four unions have been involved: the PCS, POA, Unite and CWU. Postal workers at the huge mail centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow formed three of the groups. The Sighthill group in Edinburgh studied ‘Understanding children’. While at Springburn in Glasgow, one group studied ‘Starting with psychology’ and another studied ‘Starting with law’. Feedback from all the union members who have participated has been excellent.
Julie-Ann Gilroy is 31 and lives in East Kilbride. She had toyed for some time with the idea of studying child care at college or through The Open University. She attended an Openings Taster Session at St Vincent’s Primary School advertised through the South Lanarkshire Home School Partnership and subsequently registered for the Openings course ‘Understanding children’. Julie-Ann was nervous at first, but after receiving the course material and talking with her tutor she felt she had the confidence to do the course. She found her tutor easy to contact by email or telephone, and was able to discuss any problems or difficulties.
Family and friends were surprised at how well she managed the course alongside work and family commitments and were very supportive. Julie-Ann is now enrolled for an HNC in Child Care at her local college in August 2011.
‘Going to college was an idea I had [before starting the Openings course] but I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’ve still got my final assessment to do but the college was quite happy with this and they felt it was great experience that I had done this and taken it upon myself to go and learn.’