Pygmalion, Zeus and OU slippers

Posted on June 14th, 2016 at 4:38 pm by Daniel Weinbren

On 11th June, Jess Hughes and Dan Weinbren discussed how Greek myths have been employed to help us understand the history of the OU. Professor Sewart argued that the OU was like Athena, in that it sprang forth, fully armed, from the head of Zeus. However, Dan Weinbren suggested that this myth marginalised the longer roots of the OU in 18thC part-time courses for adults, nineteenth century correspondence courses and 20th century radio and television. It also marginalised the role of women, notably Jennie Lee, and the role of the state and the market.

We also discussed the value and uses of Ovid’s ‘Pygmalion’ tale, updated by Bernard Shaw just prior to the First World War and again in the film ‘My Fair Lady’ before there was another incarnation in the 1980s with ‘Educating Rita’.

In addition, we considered if the slippers and wellies story, now so frequently retold, was a myth of the OU. See here for the discussion.

Remembering Asa Briggs, 7 May 1921 – 15 March 2016

Posted on March 23rd, 2016 at 5:18 pm by Daniel Weinbren

Today’s Times carries a tribute to Asa Briggs in the ‘Lives Remembered’ section on page 55. Asa’s association with the OU was not in the obituary last week.

For an account of the relationship between  Asa and the OU see the chapter by Daniel Weinbren in this book

Asa’s work is discussed here by the OU’s Professor of Social History and Asa himself.

Radio Coventry and Warwickshire remembers the OU’s only nationwide awards ceremony

Posted on March 23rd, 2016 at 3:52 pm by Daniel Weinbren


Here is the URL to BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire site available for 30 days. It is about the first degrees awarded by The Open University in 1973. STARTS – 02:28:28 | ENDS – 02:33:04]


Midnight oil on filtered water – unusual connections

Posted on March 23rd, 2016 at 3:49 pm by Daniel Weinbren

In 1960 work began on the Aswan High Dam. Built in Egypt with the support of the 800 Russian engineers it became an emblem of the Cold War as the West focused on saving the colossal 12th century BCE sandstone figures which were going to be submerged in a new lake unless action was taken. A film producer who had helped to found the company Ulster Television and expert scuba diver William MacQuitty (1905 –2004) proposed to save the temple by building a dam around the complex. This would be filled with clear, filtered water. Architect Jane Drew developed plans which imagined visitors taking a lift down from a restaurant at the top of the dam to curved pathways with circular windows and bubbles of glass. Encased in bubbles, tunnels, and shafts they would be able to view the temple structures which would be preserved by being under water.

MacQuitty went on to work with Queen’s University, Belfast to make an early example of late night adult education Midnight Oil while Jane Drew went on to design many of the buildings for the OU’s Walton Hall site. She was made an honorary Doctor of the University at the first degree ceremony.

Doreen Massey, 1944-2016

Posted on March 16th, 2016 at 10:12 am by Daniel Weinbren

Some of the obituaries of the late OU Professor. Here is the OU. Here is Hilary Wainwright and the Guardian



Death of Asa Briggs

Posted on March 16th, 2016 at 10:05 am by Daniel Weinbren

OU Planning Committee and former Chancellor Asa Briggs has died

For an account of his role at the OU see the chapter on his relationship with the OU in Miles Taylor, ‘The Age of Asa. Lord Briggs, Public Life and History in Britain since 1945′, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. The chapter is ‘Asa Briggs and the Opening Up of the Open University’.

Book review

Posted on September 3rd, 2015 at 12:31 pm by Daniel Weinbren

‘The Open University. A history’ has had a few reviews. The review in the ‘International Journal of Lifelong Education’, is quoted on the Amazon site. There is also a review in ‘Welsh History Review’ which calls the book a ‘very substantial work’. The ‘Times Higher’ reported that it is “A fascinating history of the politics and passion that led to creation of the first ‘University of the Air’. Weinbren’s inspiring account reveals how the university with its open access policy became the UK’s biggest provider of part-time higher education, changing the lives of thousands that would otherwise have been denied the opportunity.”

The review, see here, by Tony Bates is also complementary. Tony says: ‘Weinbren has undertaken an extremely challenging task and met the challenge superbly. I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I have. More importantly, there are very important lessons to be drawn from this book about the nature of university education, equity, and government policy toward higher education.’


Radio Times

Posted on October 17th, 2014 at 9:16 am by Daniel Weinbren

Some items of interest in a newly-digitalised source, the Radio Times 1923-2009. You can find plenty of old OU broadcasts, including the entry for the conferring of its first undergraduate and honorary degrees. Most universities hand out the certificates in their poshest hall or perhaps a local civic building. The OU did it live on BBC2 from the place where the programmes were made, Alexandra Palace. There was not a vast range of channels back on 23rd June 1973. To devote one of them to the award of degrees to 600 people in the Great Hall at Alexandra Palace was an interesting decision. In addition, the programme showed the award of honorary degrees, the installation of the second Chancellor (the first one having died) and some interviews with students. All this was presented by the man with those dulcet, calming tones, Richard Baker.

Here’s the archive site:

Age of Asa Briggs

Posted on September 7th, 2014 at 7:41 pm by Daniel Weinbren

 The Age of Asa (a book aboutLord Briggs including a chapter on his contribution to the OU) will be launched at midday on Thursday 4th December, at the Falmer campus, University of Sussex at which Asa and Susan Briggs will be present.

Forthcoming conference at the Institute of Historical Research, London on ‘The Utopian Universities: a fifty year retrospective’ (23-24 October 2014). It takes as its subject the ‘new’ universities of the 1960s – Sussex, East Anglia, York, Lancaster, Kent, Essex and Warwick. The programme is available at

Publics, Research and The Open University

Posted on January 31st, 2014 at 3:42 pm by Daniel Weinbren

Since it was opened to students in 1971 The Open University’s structures and pedagogies have shifted the notion of public research. A ‘public’, Michael Warner argued, is formed when texts (in the broadest sense) circulate among strangers and enable those people, through those texts, to organize together and to have experiences in common. The OU’s dispatch of centrally-produced teaching materials to students -  texts such as home experiment kits, correspondence materials, television broadcasts, and, latterly, web pages looks like top-down information dispersal. However, the OU has sought to support collaborative learning, the creation of ‘publics’. In the 1970s the OU’s first Professor of History, Arthur Marwick, noted that, ‘the emphasis throughout is not upon the teacher offering some kind of performance … but on encouraging the student to do the discussing, to develop the skills … We attempt, in our correspondence texts, not to purvey facts and opinions but to encourage the student to argue over and discuss various ideas’. The OU’s locally-based, part-time, Tutors, who support the OU’s learners, have long been urged not to concentrate only on imparting the canon of accepted knowledge. Rather they have motivated students to question the assumption that there was an accepted body of theoretical knowledge about which they need to learn. Read the rest of this entry »