Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 44. Whitehall

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

Recognising that a ‘very eccentric institution is a university funded directly by the state, and run by a direct grant from the state’, as noted John Pratt of the OU in 1970, Whitehall, which was an object of significant influence, is this week’s object.

The number of UK universities more than doubled from 20 to 43 during the 1960s but, unlike other new UK universities, the OU, opened in 1969, was not part of a plan developed by the existing committee or was the result of lobbying by local authorities or interest groups. The decision to create the university was made before the main site for it, Milton Keynes, was decided and indeed before concrete started being poured to construct the new city of Milton Keynes. Rather, the British parliamentary system enabled a relatively small number of people to work through Ministerial fiat. The OU has been called the ‘pet scheme’ of the Labour Party Prime Minister and is said to be marked by his, Wilson’s ‘personal imprint’. Being directly controlled by the Minister, rather than being run through the same committee that other universities were, the OU was subject to debates in Parliament and closer investigation than other universities. The OU took the form it took because of the interventions of Labour Minister Jennie Lee. After Labour lost power in 1970 the new Conservative Minister, Margaret Thatcher, sought to amend the entry rules to encourage greater competition and the government directed the OU to support various overseas ventures as part of its diplomatic efforts. It buttressed open learning institutions in The Netherlands, Nigeria, Surinam and Thailand. It sent teams to Iran, Pakistan, it helped the Israelis to establish an Open University.

As a university created by central government and directly accountable to the Department of Education and Science the OU was subject to frequent scrutiny of its activities, budgets and teaching materials. The OU grant was reviewed annually and the OU was forbidden to carry over income from one year to another unless the expenditure was for the development of teaching materials. In addition, the OU could not accumulate reserves, nor own property against which it could borrow money. Formally, there was little scope for errors in budget management. However, costing such an innovative venture was difficult and in practice there was some flexibility. This was perhaps in recognition that the OU was not treated as other universities were. It was not within the remit of the University Grants Committee. The OU’s first VC, Walter Perry noted that, ‘our financial health has been maintained not so much because of lucky budgetary guesses in those early years but because of the extremely understanding and sympathetic way in which the Department of Education and Science (DES) has viewed our problems’. It was crucial that the fledgling university was not directly competing for funds with powerful and unsympathetic conventional universities.

As the university became more established, the demerits of this mode of funding began to outweigh the benefits. It was difficult to plan over the medium term because of the numerous challenges which required immediate resolution. Short-term resource allocation, in response to specific events or initiatives, was favoured, as, according to VC John Horlock, ‘it mattered to our masters at the DES when £500,000 was overspent one year (from a budget of well over £100 million)’. There was also concern that funding decisions were made on party- political grounds. John Horlock complained that ‘the civil servants liked to have their fingers in the OU pie, whereas I hardly saw a civil servant in all my time at Salford’ (where he had previously worked). He also noted that while the government determined student numbers, discouraged research and denied proposals for postgraduate funding, ‘ventures close to its own policies’ received support.

A Visiting Committee was appointed in order to advise the minister on the financial and other plans. Between 1982 and 1990 it was chaired by Sir Austin Bide. It was a period when the amount of government grant per undergraduate fell by over a quarter in real terms. Its eleven members visited a summer school and Walton Hall in 1982 and proposed improvements to the assessment system, which were implemented. Its recommendations led to changes in staffing, acceptance that the OU should continue to engage in research and that there should be a change in the funding arrangements. When the OU sought to expand postgraduate teaching and to fund some undergraduate-level courses in the continuing education programme through the core funding it had to make its case through the Visiting Committee. Sir Austin Bide was also a member of the Croham Report on the University Grants Committee which, as part of a wider brief, reviewed the relationship between the OU and the University Grants Committee. It received evidence from the OU’s Vice-Chancellor and others at the OU and did not recommend the integration of the OU. It did, however, propose the replacement of the University Grants Committee by a group half drawn from outside the world of education.

During the 1980s, Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Education 1981–86, adopted the view that the impact of the university-educated elite of the UK had been economically detrimental as it was wary of commercial and industrial activity. Keith Joseph’s 1985 White Paper, The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s, envisaged a smaller higher education sector. The sector, meanwhile, responded to the prevailing climate by consciously adopting industry-based models of management, which were endorsed in the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals’ 1985 Report of the Steering Committee for Efficiency Studies in Universities. The Committee, which was chaired by  industrialist Sir Alex Jarratt, emphasised an enterprise culture and specific managerial styles and structures. It also called for improvements to strategic planning and resource allocation within all universities and proposed performance reviews. This framework was already relatively familiar to the OU. It argued that it had already created structures which were in line with the recommendations of the Jarratt Report, notably a Vice-Chancellor’s Management Team and a Senate and Council connected to the Strategic Planning Resources Committee. Other universities took steps to implement its main recommendations. In the development of its management systems the OU was in some respects further down a path which all universities would have to follow.

The ease of access to OU materials and the direct line between the university and the national civil service enabled a number of Ministers to comment on OU teaching materials over the course of a decade. On being told that a social science course showed a Marxist bias in its critique of monetarism, Sur Keith Joseph read all the relevant teaching materials, visited the OU and summoned the University’s Vice Chancellor ‘to what proved’, the VC John Horlock recalled ‘to be a very difficult interview’. Anastasios Christodoulou (the University Secretary, 1968–80) said that the Minister ‘didn’t like the OU at all’ and thought that the OU ‘was politically motivated, ideologically unsound and its standards suspect and I’m almost quoting’. In 1988 the government the body which administered funding to the universities was abolished. This ‘buffer’ was replaced with that which academic Robert Anderson described as ‘more feeble barrier against direct state control’. The OU was joined by other universities in a new system. It no longer enjoyed a near-unique status within Whitehall.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 41. Trade Unions

Monday, January 28th, 2019

After negotiations reaching back to 2002 the new contract for Associate Lecturers (ALs) is going to be implemented over the next two years. This was after 93% of AL union members who voted in a union ballot, favoured the new contract. Casual labour has long been an important element of staffing at the OU. In the past it was only when students signed up for a module that the ALs to teach them are employed. If the number of students fell then, although efforts were made to avoid this, ALs might not be contracted. The new, permanent contract for over 4,000 ALs will mean more job security for tutors, as well as better terms and conditions, more staff development opportunities, and improved long term planning. The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mary Kellett spoke of this being ‘a huge step towards an inclusive OU family and a united teaching workforce’. UCU regional official Lydia Richards said: ‘The new contract is a huge step forward for associate lecturers at the Open University. It means they are free from the fear of being out of work if there is a fluctuation in student numbers’.

In the light of this development, this week’s object is the trade unions at the Open University. Members of a number of unions have worked at the OU. Currently two trade unions are recognised at the OU. UNISON was created in 1993 through the merger of a number of unions, including the National Union of Public Employees, founded 1905. It negotiates on behalf of Secretarial and Clerical, Industrial Production Staff and Manual and Ancillary staff at the OU. This includes members who work for private contractors on an OU location. In addition to employment Terms and Conditions UNISON offers advice and support regarding Leave Entitlement, Health and Safety, Bullying and Harassment and it also offers services such as Insurance, Holidays and Legal Advice. Based at Walton Hall, it has representatives at all the OU locations. These include Walton Hall, the Regions, the Nations and the Wellingborough Warehouse.


At Walton Hall the pensions strike picket line, Princess Leia, sporting her bagel-style haircut, helped with the leafleting. Strikers were also supported by the local prospective Labour MP, Cllr Hannah O’Neill.


 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The OU branch of the University and College Union negotiates with the University’s management on behalf of academic, research, AL and academic-related staff. It encourages staff to have a voice in the strategy and future of the university. Fifty years before the OU received its Royal Charter the Association of University Teachers (AUT) was formed. In 1949 the Scottish AUT (formed 1922) affiliated to the AUT (UK) as the AUT (Scotland). Almost from the start the AUT was active within the OU. It was joined by the Association of University and College Lecturers in 1992 and in 2006 it merged with the National Association for Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) to form the University and College Union (UCU). The union’s trained caseworkers have provided support and advice to members on a wide range of issues. Unreasonable treatment, such as bullying, discrimination and unfair dismissal have been challenged. There have been campaigns about the gender pay gap, job losses, casualisation, excessive workload and many other issues. The union has not simply been reactive. It has encouraged members to work together and to imagine how education could be better. There has also been support from the central officials and representatives of the union. Following votes, members have gone on strike with other branches around the country, most recently over pensions. Whilst most UCU branches have a membership based in one campus or a single town, the OU branch has Associate Lecturer and Staff Tutor members across Britain and Ireland. The UCU has often campaigned to defend students, opposing the decision to introduce high fees for learners. It has, in turn, received support from students. When tutors have explained that their reasons for postponing the assessment of students’ work, they have received letters and emails of support.
Specially-produced clothing to promote a campaign at the OU.

There have been other initiatives to engage with trade unions and industrial workers. In 1977, in an OU television programme and an internal paper Dr Ke  Jones drew on his own research in order to demonstrate that education was perceived as middle class He proposed study centres in industrial premises and the offer of guaranteed places for industrial workers. (Ken Jones, Given half a chance: A study of some factors in cultural disadvantage affecting the acquisition of learning skills in adults). The OU has also been in partnership with Unionlearn, the learning and skills organisation of the Trades Union Congress which helps trade unions provide opportunities for their members to learn.

 

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No. 17. Jennie Lee Buildings

Monday, August 13th, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two buildings which have been named after Jennie Lee on the Walton Hall campus. A library which she opened, now demolished and a building which is the home of the educational technologists at the OU. Jennie Lee House, Edinburgh, is where the OU in Scotland is based. Despite this recognition by the OU itself, sometimes Jennie Lee has been eclipsed. A recent article by Pete Dorey, Vol 29, no 2 2015, in the journal Contemporary British History about the foundation of the OU was entitled ‘”Well, Harold insists on having it!”The political struggle to establish the Open University, 1965-67’. The first line of the abstract reads ‘The establishment of The Open University has been widely lauded as Harold Wilson’s most successful policy achievement and his enduring legacy, a view with which Wilson himself concurred’.

One of the myths about the OU is that it has a single founding father, Harold Wilson. Promoted by Wilson himself who told a story, many times, of jotting down the idea just before settling down to that Great British institution, Sunday lunch in East 1963. The dominant narrative is of the Great Man and his swift creation, between 1963 when he penned the idea and its opening in 1969. There are precedents for such myths in many origins stories. It was clothed in classical garb by David Sewart, onetime Director of Student Services and Professor in Distance Education at the OU. He felt that the OU was ‘like Athena springing fully grown and fully armed from the head of Zeus’; it ‘appeared to have no mother and never to have had the opportunity to have been an adolescent, let alone a child’.

This categorisation of the OU as Harold Wilson’s ‘pet scheme’ (as The Times called it) marginalises the depth of its roots in the traditions of part-time education for adults, developed from the eighteenth century, correspondence courses, associated with the rapid industrialisation of the nineteenth century and on university extension initiatives, which started in the 1870s. It has also developed ideas derived from sandwich courses, summer schools, radio and television broadcasts, for which there were precedents in the twentieth century. It also marginalises the role of Jennie Lee, the OU’s ‘midwife’, to use a term employed by MSP Claire Baker. The sentence in Contemporary British History written by Pete Dorey and quoted above, goes on to say that the policy of having an Open University was ‘was mostly drafted and developed by Jennie Lee’. Dorey also adds that ‘The Open University only became established due to Lee’s dogged determination and tenacity’

In 1963, Wilson then Leader of the Labour Party, in opposition called for a university of the air. He didn’t fill in the details and, after the General Election of 1964, he was busy being Prime Minister. He handed the brief to a Labour MP who had over 20 years of experience of the Commons: Jennie Lee.

On the campaign trail in Bristol in 1943, where Jennie Lee was defeated, and Cannock which she represented 1945-70.

She became Britain’s first Arts Minister in the Labour government of 1964. She was 60, widowed for four years and fearless. She seized responsibility of making an idea of ‘a university of the air’ into a reality. Keeping well clear of the civil servants who dealt with other universities, it was she who decided on the form the new institution would take. In the face of opposition she developed a tiny sketch into a complete university. As she said to her senior civil servant, Ralph Toomey, in 1967, before the OU had opened, when its future was uncertain: ‘that little bastard that I have hugged to my bosom and cherished, that all the others have tried to kill off,will thrive’. She was able to do this because she had a clear idea of what she wanted – a ‘great independent university’ based on something like the Scottish system of higher education. A coalminer’s daughter who had received a bursary to study at Edinburgh University during the 1926 strike which impoverished her community she determined to beat the established order at its own game, to ‘outsnob the snobs’, as she put it. Her late spouse, Aneurin Bevan, had become a miner on leaving elementary school and had received little formal education, though he noted in 1952 how he valued ‘superior educational opportunities’. She mentioned him when she spoke of the origins of the Open University, recalling how they both knew ‘that there were people in the mining villages who left school at 14 or 15 who had first-class intellects’. This may have led her to create an advisory committee which did not include representatives from the principal university providers of adult education. In addition, she maintained control. She not only created but chaired the committee.

There were plenty of sceptics. Many Conservatives largely hated it. The BBC had long produced educational materials and was unimpressed by this upstart. Whitehall was also snooty and the press largely agreed. Within the Higher Education sector several critics argued that the money should be spent elsewhere. Jennie Lee produced a White Paper before the 1966 general election. Wilson recalled her contribution when the Cabinet met at Chequers 50 years ago just prior to March 1966 election. He said:

At the end of the afternoon anybody was free to speak on anything. Jennie got up and made a passionate speech about the University of the Air. She said the greatest creation of the previous Labour government was Nye’s National Health Service but that now we were engaged on an operation which would make just as much difference to the country. We were all impressed. She was a tigress.

Her Feb 1966 White Paper, ‘A University of the Air’ made it clear that “There can be no question of offering to students a makeshift project inferior in quality to other universities. That would defeat its whole purpose”. She got it into the manifesto, Labour won the election in March and, returned to office, she steered the proposed OU past the sterling crisis, past tax increases, past credit restraints & the prices and incomes standstill and towards her friend, Lord Goodman. He produced a set of figures for the cost of the OU which were a massive underestimate. The OU’s first Vice Chancellor called it ‘perhaps a fortunate accident’. Perhaps. Or perhaps it was an astute political move.

What today would derail a Minister – rudeness to colleagues, indifference to her Secretary of State, visible contempt for the department in which she was located – were her strengths. She didn’t care if civil servants, or colleagues, were offended, or wouldn’t work with her or didn’t trust her. She wasn’t building a career. She wanted an Open University. It was Jennie who decided that the OU would offer degrees, would be open to all, even the unqualified and would operate independently, separately, and with the highest academic standards. Adult education should be more than what she called ‘dowdy and mouldy… old-fashioned night schools … hard benches’. She knew that Adult Education was, as the OU’s first Vice-Chancellor, another Scot called Walter Perry, put it, ‘the patch on the backside of our educational trousers’. In 1965 she told the Commons: ’I am not interested in having a poor man’s university of the air, which is the sort of thing which one gets if nothing else is within our reach. We should set our sights higher than that.’

In Walton Hall there is a painting of Jennie Lee. She is portrayed as being in many places at once, including in the Commons, at the hustings and attending a degree ceremony. This is how it should be for, as the Founding Chancellor said when opening the OU, ‘This University has no cloisters – a word meaning closed. Hardly even shall we have a campus… the University will be disembodied’. The OU is everywhere around us and, being without its own body, it needs our bodies.

Not merely to conceive, but actually to make happen a university which sought to match the standards of the best in the sector but had no admission requirements, which attempted to employ print, correspondence and television in a way which transcended the potential of each, which made a reality of reaching every kind of learner in every corner of the United Kingdom, required a vast act of faith and a bloody-minded determination.

50 objects for 50 years. No 1. The Royal Charter

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Today 23 April 2018, is the anniversary of the granting of a Royal Charter to the Open University. A year hence it will be the 50thanniversary of the Open University. To mark that half century, we will be writing about 50 objects which have made the OU. You are invited to make proposals for your favourites. Maybe it was the first parcel you received with OU materials or the gown you wore to your OU graduation. Perhaps it was the coffee that your partner brought you at midnight as you struggled to complete a TMA.

 

This week the object is the Royal Charter. Written by the OU’s Planning Committee it provided the OU with a bulwark of respectability against its detractors andunified the OU into a single legal entity. It unites learners and staff, indicates that this is an institution of quality and it frames how we address, construct and bolster communities. It reminds us of how the OU has united strangers and supported co-operation between learners.

 

Higher Education institutions do not require Charters in order to confer degrees or to operate. Many have not got Charters and some were only granted Charters after they opened. The University of Essex admitted its first students in 1964 and was granted a Royal Charter in 1965. The University of Keele was founded in 1949 and only received its Charter in 1962. The BBC has a Charter, but it has to be renewed every decade. The incorporation by a Royal Charter (alterable onlyby the agreement of The Queen in Council) gave considerable status to the OU when it was an institution without any students, which was to be based in many sites, which was of unproven popularity with the electorate and which was distained by many MPs. The OU’S Royal Charter proclaims respectability, community, outreach.

 

Although it was not clear in 1963, when Harold Wilson called for a university of the air, that there would be a new university with its own charter, the idea gained ground as Wilson’s rough notes were expanded and the OU was planned. One reason for a Charter might have been to prevent the Open University’s enemies closing it down when the Labour government lost power, as it did a few months after the Charter was granted. William van Straubenzee, the Conservative junior minister for higher education in the 1970–74 government, was reported as saying of the OU ‘I would have slit its throat if I could’. He blamed the outgoing Labour education minister Ted Short for some ‘nifty, last-moment work with the charter that made the OU unkillable’.

 

On 23 April 1969, two days after a human first walked on the moon, the Royal Charter of The Open University was granted. The Charter stated that ‘the objects of the University shall be the advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge by teaching and research by a diversity of means such as broadcasting and technological devices appropriate to higher education, by correspondence, tuition, residential courses and seminars and in other relevant ways’.

 

The OU’s Charter was based on that of Warwick University, opened in 1965. In its emphasis on openness, the OU echoed the motto of another new university, Lancaster (opened 1964): Patet omnibus veritas (Truth lies open to all). The first stated objective about the need to advance and disseminate learning and knowledge, was similar to statements in the charters of other universities of the 1960s. York’s focus was on enabling ‘students to obtain the advantages of University education’; Lancaster wanted to use the ‘influence of its corporate life’; and the University of Warwick has almost identical wording to these two.

 

The OU’s Charter contained an additional objective: ‘to promote the educational well-being of the community generally’. It was this obligation to the wider community that led to the development in the 1970s of the ‘Continuing Education’ programme with courses such as P911 ‘The first years of life’ and P912 ‘the pre-school child’.It is this same obligation within the charter that informs continued University collaboration with the BBC on current popular programmes such as Child of our time, Coast and Civilisations.

 

The Charter set out the regulation of the university. There would be a Council, ‘the executive governing body of the university’, a Senate and a non-executive general assembly, ‘the organ through which the feeling of a corporate institution would be generated’. The university also had its own regional organisation. At first it was It was intended that the General Assembly, representative of both students and staff, would elect representatives to the Council and Senate through regional assemblies. Changes to the Charter have been suggested. These are difficult to make and have led to lively debates.

 

The Charter did not grant the OU autonomy, the university’s finances were subject of close government scrutiny from the beginning. It was forbidden to carry over income from one year to another unless the expenditure was for the development of teaching materials. The OU could not accumulate reserves, nor own property against which it could borrow money and it was subject to annual review.

 

The Charter obliged the university ‘to make provision for research’. However, when the OU sought to make provision for postgraduates it was derided by Rhodes Boyson, a head teacher who was to become a Conservative MP in 1974. He argued that the OU only wanted to do this ‘because it expects that no one will accept its degrees as worthy of postgraduate extension’. Despite the difficulties and scepticism, research played an important role at the OU from the beginning. Steven Rose, the OU’s first professor of biology, established the Brain Research Group which was importance in the development of the new field of neuroscience. He recalled that, when offered a post at the OU ‘made it very clear at the start that I wouldn’t go unless there were research facilities … this was going to be a university like any other university’. He received funding from the Medical Research Council, ‘so from the very beginning … we’d actually got research going’. The OU awarded its first PhD in 1972.

 

Since the first Charter the OU has launched its own Student Charter.

 

Doreen Massey, 1944-2016

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

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

 

 

Stuart Hall film

Friday, September 6th, 2013

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: http://youtu.be/MA-og9_-Yro and you can find more information on our release page about the film: http://bit.ly/1dcQIXY.

University of the Air speech: 50th anniversary

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

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’. (more…)

Former AL notes significance of OU

Thursday, November 1st, 2012
Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South and Shadow Minister for Further Education, Skills and Regional Growth is a former Editor of History Today and a former Open University tutor. He mentioned the OU in a recent speech, made to mark the re-opening of Ruskin College, which recently moved to a new location in Oxford. Below is an extract: (more…)

Open to satire?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Should a public figure or institution be brave enough to wish, with the poet Robert Burns, ‘to see oursels as ithers see us’, the cartoonist’s art is likely to remind them of another adage: be careful what you wish for. 

The British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent provides a window onto the ways in which people and organisations have been portrayed through the ages.  As a national institution, The Open University hasn’t evaded capture by the caricaturist’s ink.  This group of cartoons evokes an evolving pen portrait in which the ‘University of the Air’ lived up to its name in at least one respect: it was difficult to pin down in a visual medium.  With no substantial image of its own, the OU was not so much used as a target for satire in its own right, as a means for cartoonists to satirise some of their more ‘usual suspects’.  Groups of people and themes caricatured via their association with the OU included politicians, television, students, changing social mores and class aspiration.

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Former OU PVC goes online

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Coursera  calls itself a ‘social entrepreneurship company’ which aims to deliver online courses. Founded by two academics from Stanford University and funded to the tune of $22m by the computer industries, it claims to offer ‘education for everyone’ by providing courses from its partner universities. These include  the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Virginia, Rice University, UC San Francisco, University of Illinois and University of Washington and also Toronto in Canada and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Coursera does not offer degrees, but students can be awarded certificates. (more…)