News has reached us that Colin Archibald Russell (7 September 1928 – 17 May 2013) the Emeritus Professor in History of Science, the Open University has died. His BSC was awarded by the University of London and he went on to teach chemistry at Kingston and Preston while also studying for a M SC and PhD and later a DSc. In 1970 he became the founding Professor of the department of the history of science and technology at The Open University. Read the rest of this entry »
Born in 1900 Louis Mountbatten was home-schooled, then attended a school in Hertfordshire and the Royal Naval College. Following Service in the First World War he became a mature student as he attended Cambridge for two terms where he studied engineering in a programme that was specially designed for ex-servicemen. He later returned to the Royal Naval College as an adult learner. He maintained an interest in education as between 1967 and 1978 he was president of an international educational body, the United World Colleges. He also showed an interest in technology in that he was a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and in 1939 was granted a patent for a system which ensured that the distance between two ships could be kept constant.
Although he became associated with stories of a plot to stage a coup d’état against the Labour government which created the OU his presence in 1970, opening the OU buildings in Milton Keynes, underlined that the OU was not simply an important element of a democratic socialist project. He was a a reminder of the importance of its international and economic roles and its appeal to prescient technocrats. The OU has many connections and, just as the Royal Charter bolstered its respectability, so too did this link to Mountbatten.
Much of the reporting of the recent development of universities laments the passing of a golden age. Sometimes these accounts are a burnished and reconstructed version of the past which portray universities as victims. However, the OU has played a more active role. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sunday 28th April 2013 the Independent on Sunday listed ‘the 100 British women who, arguably, have done most to shape the world we live in today’. They included two women associated with the OU, Betty Boothroyd, the former OU Chancellor and Jennie Lee about whom it was written ‘her legacy as a minister in Harold Wilson’s government included the setting up of the Open University’.
Often the OU is seen in terms of systems. It also needs to be understood in terms of students. Read the rest of this entry »
The Royal Charter was presented on 23rd April 1969, before there were any OU students. This early Royal ndorsement indicates the aims of the university. These are largely unsurprising for a university. It should advance and disseminate learning and knowledge. However, unusually for a university the OU is also ‘to promote the educational well-being of the community generally’. This was an institution which intended to be inclusive, innovative, responsive. Read the rest of this entry »
As Education Secretary in the early 1970s Margaret Thatcher made two decisions which illustrate her long-term approach to higher education. The first one was to ignore the patrician voices in her own party which derided the newly-opened Open University. She opted to retain Labour’s project. However, there was a twist. Read the rest of this entry »
History, Marx argued repeats itself, ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’. At the OU there has been a rerun of the Marxist bias stories. In the 1980s it was Conservative Ministers who claimed to have found Marxists at the OU. Today it is Education Secretary Michael Gove. One hundred academics, including one associated with the OU, signed an open letter to Gove. The authors suggested that Mr Gove’s ideas could ‘severely erode educational standards’. The Minister responded by categorising them as Marxists. He also suggested that those who stress the importance of communities of practice, a concept which is popular within the OU, were Marxist. He suggested a new way of categorising academics, explaining, ‘There is good academia and bad academia’.
Mr Gove went on to propose that there is a wider left-wing conspiracy. Although the OU has not been mentioned specifically it seems that there is a group of people who ‘in and around our universities who praised each other’s research, sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula, drew gifted young teachers away from their vocation and instead directed them towards ideologically driven theory … [The Group] operate by stealth, using its influence to control the quangos and committees which shaped policy.’ David Cameron has proposed that state education and its teachers are a “left-wing establishment’. It is not clear that such categorisations support the improvement of understandings and knowledge.
On 3 April the funeral of Godfrey Vesey will take place in Bedford. The son of an Anglican cleric, he graduated from St Catherine’s College, Cambridge in 1950 and worked in London and the USA before he became the founding Professor of Philosophy at the OU in 1969. He remained at the OU until his retirement in 1985. He then became an emeritus professor. He was a PVC 1975-1976, the Deputy Chair of Senate, 1976-77 and in 1980 was briefly Acting Vice Chancellor of the OU. He wrote many books and articles, including two pieces on teaching philosophy at the OU. Some of his Open University broadcast transcripts were collected in Philosophy in the Open (1974). He was an assistant editor of Philosophy from 1964 to 1969 and Honorary Director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy from 1965 until 1979. He was then given the exceptional distinction of a fellowship of the Royal Institute of Philosophy in recognition of his outstanding services.