Archive for the ‘Higher education’ Category

University history is the nation’s history

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The conference was a delight. We convened in one of the older parts of the university pictured in this report. There we heard a fascinating welcome talk from John Peter Collett, Professor at the University of Oslo and then Mitchell Ash, Prof of Modern History, Vienna presented a keynote on ‘Universities, science, scholarship and national identity’ and there was a contribution from Benjamin A Elman, Professor of East Asian Studies and History, Princeton who gave a paper entitled: ‘Why was the scientist in Chinese Universities call ‘Mr Science’ based on Japanese universities?’ A theme running through all the contributions was that of national identity. This postings title comes from John Peter who explained the centrality of the University of Oslo to Norway. Many universities provide training for the elite administrators of the state or church but also embody national and often regional pride. It was only when the talks had concluded and we were filing out, some of us with rather numb due to the unforgiving wooden seats, that I snapped the ceiling. (more…)

Conference, Oslo

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Oslo has just over half a million inhabitants and is located at the head of a 70-mile long fjord. It is surrounded by forested ridges and I’m told that it is straightforward to go skiing, kayaking or ice skating within the city.

It certainly appears cheerier than a glance at the work of local artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) might lead one to suppose. He painted other images beside the famous one shown here. For instance he provided a mural for a local chocolate factory.

I’ve come here to spend a weekend listening to papers and contributing to discussions in a forum entitled, ‘Rethinking Modern University History’. I hope to situate thedevelopment of The Open University within the wider context of the development of other universities and hear, among other contributions, a paper about ‘The Myth of Academic Dissertations’, another intriguingly entitled: ‘An Inside Job? The Problem of Reflexivity in University History and Higher Education Studies’ and a third called ‘Undoing the European University: The Bologna Process’.

More graphic than info

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The history of distance education has been compressed into an infographic by, see here. All events prior to 1960 receive as much attention as ‘crime’ (illustrated by a poodle in a mortar board, though not this poodle). A teleological approach is implied by a number of images of evolutionary development, The Open University is not mentioned in this US-focused account and women are not considered to be of significance in this narrative.

Good to see the subject raised. Could try harder with grammar and content.

The OU is missed from this account of the history of distance education which has been produced by There are, however, links to the ‘top distance learning schools’. They are all US-based and private.

Happy Birthday THES

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Happy birthday to the Time Higher Education Supplement which is celebrating its fortieth birthday this week. The newspaper first came out in 1971, the same year that students first started studying at The Open University, a reflection perhaps that higher education had moved up the political agenda. Matthew Reisz describes the background to the paper’s launch in this week’s issue:

It all started with a direct threat. Macmillan, the publisher of Nature, was planning to launch a paper called Senate, aimed at teachers in higher education. Times Newspapers Ltd was worried that this would eat into the substantial advertising revenue of the Times Educational Supplement – and so, in 1971, the Times Higher Education Supplement was born.


Society for Research into Higher Education

Monday, October 10th, 2011

 The Society for Research into Higher Education is a UK-based international learned society concerned to advance understanding of higher education, especially through the insights, perspectives and knowledge offered by systematic research and scholarship. The Society aims to be the leading international society in the field, as to both the support and the dissemination of research. 

Higher Education Close-Up  is a virtual network for in-depth research into higher education. It aims to provide a forum for discussion about, and the enhancement of, this kind of research through a JISCMAIL discussion list. You can find this list at:

Benefits of an OU degree

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

In mid-August The Open University was again ranked among the top three UK universities for student satisfaction in the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) National Student Survey of 265, 000 final-year students studying at 154 universities and 99 further education colleges. The response rate of 65% – the highest rate in the seven years that the NSS has been running. A third of students (32%) were unhappy with the level of assessment and feedback they received, while a quarter (25%) criticised the organisation and management of their course and 10% of UK students were disatisfied with the quality of their qualifications. (more…)

Capella moves in

Monday, August 15th, 2011

The new environment in which the OU must operate was indicated by an acquisition in July when the Capella Education Company, which describes itself as ‘aggressive’ and ‘disruptive’, acquired Resource Development International. RDI has called itself  the world’s largest independent provider of UK university qualifications by distance learning. Capella wants to validate degrees and RDI currently offers distance-learning degrees validated by institutions including the universities of Wales, Sunderland and Birmingham, and Anglia Ruskin and Sheffield Hallam universities. As December 31, 2010, it offered over 1,250 online courses and 43 academic programs with 136 specializations to over 39,000 learners.

The development was widely reported, with comments by, among others, the Wall Street Journal, the company itself and the THES.

Messages through the long white cloud

Thursday, July 14th, 2011


In From a Distance (published in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the distance education programe of Massey University New Zealand, Aotearoa) Emeritus Professor Tom Prebble noted that the use of television by the OU (the educational significance of which he may have overemphasised) had an influence on this New Zealand university’s distance education programme.  

‘When the British Open University began in the early 1970s, it made extensive use of television to support its teaching programmes. These programmes were also available to the general public on a free-to-view basis and they did a lot to publicise the new institution. By the mid 1980s there was a widespread belief that television should be used to deliver distance education in New Zealand. At Massey, this viewpoint found an enthusiastic champion in Terry Povey [who established] a Television Production Centre [p.79]’.     (more…)

Research and universities

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

During its early years there was some debate as to whether academic staff at the OU should engage in research. There was a victory for those who insisted that the tradition associated with Humboldt be maintained and that this was part of the job of central academic staff. The OU is now recognized for having produced some world-class research. The debate, about the value of a research-teaching synergy continues through the recent 79-page White Paper ’Higher Education: students at the heart of the system’. (more…)

OU courses through local colleges

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science today presented a White Paper ‘Higher Education: students at the heart of the system’. The BBC reports that the Open University will offer courses through local further education colleges. 

In his reading of the White Paper the OU’s Vice Chancellor Martion Bean noted the ‘numerous positive references’ to part-time study, distance learning and to The OU. He was also encouraged by the material on widening participation and noted that David Willetts said in the Commons that ‘we think that The Open University can be one of the main beneficiaries of the new flexibility with the 20,000 extra places.’ 

This idea of a network was mooted in the early 1960s when the OU was being planned. Jennie Lee, however, took the view that the OU should take the form that it did. She felt that it was only by being independent that it could hope to operate to the highest academic standards. Soon after it was opened the OU allowed modules to be presented at colleges in the USA.  The 2011 White Paper seems to suggest that institutions, (possibly including further education colleges & private providers) which charge tuition fees of less than £7,500 can bid for 20,000 student places. Perhaps OU modules are to be sold to colleges? Who would validate the modules, be responsible for assessment and quality is not clear and the implications of a shift towards providing teaching materials for full-time and quite possibly face-to-face and young students have yet to be announced. The White Paper mentions the OU twice, once pointing out that it does ‘consistently well’ in thesurveyof student satisfaction (p37) the other time to suggest that there could be more bodies with a structuere such as that of the OU (p52).  (more…)