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 »

Why OU graduation ceremonies are distinctive

Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 8:21 pm by Daniel Weinbren

If heaven is indeed a place on earth, I’d put money on it being an Open University graduation ceremony. There’s nothing quite so electrifying as watching families jump to their feet when mum, dad, or even great-gran takes to the stage. The years of juggled childcare, jobs and family finances melt away as the graduate beams down from the stage, amazed that their moment has come. And in the audience you see the cavalry: the proud partner who poured endless cups of tea, the parents who babysat, the children who hugged mum the morning of her exams and almost made her cry when they said: “We love you whatever”. This is the stuff that makes the Open University great.

So wrote Laura Mcinerney in the Guardian If you have interesting recollections of an OU graduation ceremony, please let us know.

Stuart Hall film

Posted on September 6th, 2013 at 12:01 am by Daniel Weinbren

Today, 6th September, the British Film Institute will release the new documentary ‘The Stuart Hall Project’ in cinemas across the UK. The film covers Stuart Hall’s connections with the Open University as an emeritus professor and charts the journey of Professor Stuart Hall, following his theories and the changing politics and culture of Britain over the last few decades and was highly acclaimed at this year’s Sundance and Sheffield Documentary festivals. Here is a link to the trailer: and you can find more information on our release page about the film:

University of the Air speech: 50th anniversary

Posted on August 27th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by Daniel Weinbren

On 8th September Harold Wilson then the Leader of HM Loyal Opposition, gave a speech to launch the Labour Party’s  pre-election campaign in Scotland. A packed rally of supporters heard his idea for ‘a new educational trust … a University of the Air … to cater for a wide variety of potential students [including] technologists who perhaps left school at sixteen’. There was a report in The Times, about this scheme for a University of the air’. The Guardian provided a report on page 1, the text of the speech on page 2 and an approving editorial headed ‘Higher education outside the Walls’ which said the plan was ‘good and welcome’. Read the rest of this entry »

Open to making a profit

Posted on August 8th, 2013 at 2:54 pm by Daniel Weinbren

BPP University College of Professional Studies which offers courses in law, accountancy, business and health course and claims to have over 36,000 students, has started to make a profit. it has been compared to the OU in that it runs postgraduate degree courses, MBAs, summer schools and training courses and has schools in a number of places including London, Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.In addition it offers part-time programmes, accelerated course and online distance learning courses.

Parliamentary interest in OU

Posted on July 31st, 2013 at 11:04 am by Daniel Weinbren

During a Lords debate of 24 July 2013 the contributors mentioned the OU’s experience and dynamism in regard to part-time education. Lord Rees of Ludlow noted that while across the nation numbers applying to be part-time students had fallen by 40% over the previous year, ‘the OU has to some extent bucked the trend’. He also called it ‘excellent news’ that the Open University had established FutureLearn. Baroness Garden of Frognal called FutureLearn ‘an exciting development’. Baroness Brinton commended the OU’s recruitment campaign and called FutureLearn ‘groundbreaking’, adding that ‘the key is the OU’s expertise in distance learning, which has been critical to getting this off the ground. These courses, and the way in which students interact with each other as well as with staff across the various institutions, is the learning environment of the 21st century’.

Norman McKenzie, 18 August 1921-18 June 2013

Posted on June 19th, 2013 at 1:10 pm by Daniel Weinbren

The life and work of one of The Open University’s pioneers Norman McKenzie, who has died at the age of 91, are considered in these obituaries. One of the foremost planners of the OU, Mr McKenzie described the year he and the first Vice-Chancellor Walter Perry spent looking for a name and site for the new educational venture in the late 1960s as reminding him of 1940 when “anything could be achieved with ideas and flair”. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the OU in 1977. There are obituaries in the Guardian and in the Telegraph.

An inaugural fanfare for the common man

Posted on June 14th, 2013 at 4:59 pm by Daniel Weinbren

In June 2013 it will be have been 40 years since The Open University hosted its first graduation ceremony. While the political and social landscape has undergone many changes since then, the sense of excitement and pride remains today. Openminds looked back on 1973 in this article:

In its 44-year history, the OU has hosted more than 700 graduation ceremonies in locations from Shetland to Singapore. But the very first, in 1973, proved to be an operation requiring organisational precision in what was to be the OU’s only nationwide ceremony.

Due to the volume of people wishing to attend, the Milton Keynes venue Walton Hall was traded in for the grand Alexandra Palace in London, which could accommodate 6,000 people. This allowed the 867 graduates to invite their families.

‘Alexandra Palace had better facilities than Milton Keynes,’ says Ben Palmer, Director of Assessment, Credit and Qualifications, who takes on the role of Graduate Presenter in some ceremonies. ‘And there were people travelling from all over the UK to attend. There was one story of a woman who came from Australia to see her son collect his degree.’

A report by Les Holloway in this magazine’s predecessor, Sesame, describes the momentous day: ‘The crowds plod up the steep slopes from their cars and buses. Most are serious faced, some nervously cheerful, some deep in abstraction. Inside the faded Victorian splendour of Ally Pally there is a disciplined bustle. Most of the graduates have elected to wear gowns. Some who had rejected the formality of academic dress find their resolution weakening.’

The first honorary Doctors of the University were also commended at Alexandra Palace; 10 men and women, including Lord Gardiner (Chancellor-elect), Jane Drew (first woman President of the Architectural Association), Paulo Freire (Brazilian educational pioneer, then in exile) and Michael Young, noted in reports of the time as ‘probably the first person to propose an open university in Britain’.

Addressing the graduates, Vice-Chancellor Walter Perry said that for him the day marked the culmination of five years in the most exciting job in education: ‘You, the graduates, were the goal that we dimly discerned through the mists of doubt and uncertainty.’

Speaking of the innovative distance learning formula, Perry continued: ‘Those who succeed have exhibited not only the necessary intellectual capacity, but also qualities of staying power and determination that will, I predict, come to be regarded and expected as the particular hallmark of holders of the BA of The Open University.’ The procession then left the Great Hall, accompanied by Copland’s 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man.

The OU now hosts on average 20 degree ceremonies a year in venues around the world. ‘The excitement at our ceremonies can often overcome some people,’ Ben says. ‘At the Vice-Chancellor’s first degree ceremony in Belfast, the first person to come across the stage did a somersault, stood up and shook his hand. The look on the face of the person who was second in line was something to wonder at.’