Archive for the ‘People’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 45. Drake Court

Monday, February 25th, 2019

The court, to be found around the back of the Gardiner Building, is named after Michael Drake, the first Dean of Social Sciences. He is also why Social Sciences courses are prefixed ‘D’. He recalled how in late 1968 or early 1969 the VC’s Committee of the OU (now the VCE) met.

An item on the agenda was to give a letter to each of the proposed Foundation courses and all courses thereafter.  Some letters were easy; ‘S’ for Science, ‘E’ for Education, ‘A’ for Arts etc.  But what about Social Sciences?  SS seemed inappropriate and anyway two letters would double inputting time.  I piped up – ‘Isn’t it obvious?  ‘O.K, D it is’ and Joe Clinch then Assistant Secretary, minuted it.

Now an Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Michael Drake contributed to numerous modules both in print and on the television and radio. He has encouraged communication between staff, been active in the local history society and his recollections have appeared in the local press. A longer recording has been made for the OU Archives. Much of his research and teaching focused on the population studies (he studied half-a-million baptism, marriage and burial records from Morley Wapentake, Yorkshire as part of an early project). He wanted to bring elements from the social sciences together with elments from the traditions associated with historians.

Building on his interest in the integration of a popular interest in family history with the disciplines of history and the social sciences Michael Drake and colleagues developed a series of OU modules. Historical Sources and the Social Scientist, D301, which was presented 1974-1988, enabled students to engage in ‘explorations of the past undertaken for the explicit purpose of advancing social scientific enquiry’. Students’ history dissertations, on topics of their choice, employed social scientific methods to complete history dissertations. Between 1994 and 2001 Family and Community History: 19th and 20th centuries, DA301 was presented. Framed by the wider OU commitment to recognizing and valuing the students’ knowledge and experience it too emphasised the need to employ the scientific methods of clearly identifying aims, hypothesizing and using theoretical models against which the findings of local research might be set. Using a problem-based learning approach, students were taught the skills required for small-scale research. On one occasion, with financial support from the Wellcome Trust, he helped over 30 students to explore the history of infant mortality in the years 1871-1910 with a focus on individuals. The studdents submitted their work for a BPhil, an MPhil or a DPhil. He sought to collapse the dichotomy of ‘inside-out and outside-in’, that is to merge the separate, parallel, streets leading either to universities from independent scholarship or vice versa. This was realised in his work for Object Number 25, FACHRS.

50 objects for 50 years. No 42. The Perry Building

Monday, February 4th, 2019

The Perry Building (see illustration) is on the Milton Keynes campus and is named after Walter Laing Macdonald Perry KT OBE, Baron Perry of Walton, (1921 – 2003). One of the influential Scots at the OU he was born in Dundee in 1921. He died in 2003 and was the subject of obituarties in the Independent and Guardian.

The image here includes the art work outside the building.

As its founding Vice-Chancellor Walter Perry was central to the creation and establishment of The Open University. He was appointed in May 1968, felt that the OU could ‘change the face of education not only in Britain but in the world’ and set out to transform learning and teaching. There were 42,000 applications to start studying in 1971 of whom 25,000 were accepted. Other UK universities which opened in the 1960s started with a few hundred students. He established a successful system for transfer of academic credits and he encouraged prisoners to study at the OU. Despite opposition from those who felt the OU should only teach, he noted that ‘it was the intent of the new university to promote the research activities of its academic staff, an intent from which the Open University has never wavered’. Many knew him as a skilled negotiator, despite the fact that as he noted ‘at one Senate meeting in 1971 each member received 487 pages of typescript weighing 2lbs 15 oz’. He was also flexible. When the site was a sea of mud he sent out for slippers which were issued to staff. He initially demonstrated little interest in the regions and nations, claiming that he used an amended version of the further educational administrative boundaries because ‘we had no coherent plan for the regions when we started; they were simply allowed to evolve’. Nevertheless, the model of central planning was amended to encompass the specific needs and aspirations of nations. He insisted on high academic and pedagogic standards noting that

the standard of teaching in conventional universities was pretty deplorable. It suddenly struck me that if you could use the media and devise course materials that would work for students all by themselves, then inevitably you were bound to affect – for good – the standard of teaching in conventional universities. I believed that to be so important that it overrode almost everything else.

He also recognised how difficult it was to study with the OU. His history of the OU, Walter Perry, Open University: A personal account by the first Vice-Chancellor (Milton Keynes: Open University, 1976) was one of the blocks upon which Daniel Weinbren, The Open University, A history (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014) was built.

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 39. The Stuart Hall Building

Monday, January 14th, 2019

The Stuart Hall Building, on the Walton Hall campus, is this week’s object.

It was named after Professor Hall, 1932 —2014, a Jamaican-born British cultural theorist, sociologist, and political activist. Hall’s father was the first nonwhite person to hold a senior position within the Jamaican office of United Fruit. This was a powerful American farming and agricultural corporation. His mother was mixed-race. In 1951, Hall won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford and became engaged with radical politics. Following Kruschev’s ‘secret’ speech of 1956 and the Russian invasion of Hungary, many Communists left the Communist Party. The Reasoner, later The New Reasoner, was created to address some of their concerns. Another journal, less associated with former Communists, was also founded, Universities and Left Review. Stuart Hall was the first editor-in-chief when, in 1960, these journals merged into New Left Review. Hall joined Birmingham University’ Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1964, became acting director in 1968 and Director in 1972.

Hall was a popular public intellectual, frequently calling for social justice and against nuclear proliferation.

 

He left Birmingham University in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University. He noted that the OU was ‘filled with good social democrats. Everybody there believes in the redistribution of educational opportunities and seeks to remedy the exclusiveness of British education’. He later pointed out ‘it would have been funny to come to the OU and not to be committed to redistributing educational opportunities’. He remained at the OU until he retired in 1997 and became a Professor Emeritus. He played a full part in teaching and research. One of the modules with which he was involved included a popular teaching text: Paul Du Gay, Stuart Hall, Linda Janes and Hugh Mackay, Doing Cultural Studies: The story of the Sony Walkman (London: Sage, in association with The Open University, 1997).

His ideas about race, gender and culture informed much of the OU’s teaching. His focus was less on the conventional division between the culture of the masses and the validated culture of the dominant, the music and books that were supposed to teach people how to be civil and which would reveal them as well-mannered. Rather, for Hall, culture was ‘experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined’. It was a site of ‘negotiation’ and popular culture was ‘where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle’.

50 objects for 50 years. No 33. Blithering opponents.

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

The quotations above manage to insult the students (Spectator) the founders (Christopher Chataway) the staff (Robert Jackson) the idea (The Times) and the Scots, Welsh, Irish and others not based in England (Times Educational Supplement). This was a university which failed as:

  • it was not a community of scholars, it failed as a university
  • it strove to be a university, it failed those best served by technical colleges and adult education provision
  •  it used television, it failed to educate and only managed to transmit
  • it was party political, it failed to be objective.

These criticisms had an impact. To prove it was intellectually sound the OU made strenuous efforts to present scholarly television programmes. as a result some of them ended up speaking to academic peers, not interested learners. To prove that students were being thoroughly tested to a high standard the OU’s assessment system has long been rigorous. For many years there were external examiners for every module, not simply every degree and there is checking on the marking of tutors through a system of monitoring and tutorial visits. The accusation that it was the creature of the Labour Party shifted. Some teaching materials were accused of bias.

However, slowly, the OU came to make the transition from an ‘electoral gimmick’ (to quote Chataway) to its current status of ‘national treasure’ (in the words of the Vice-Chancellor at another university). As it became more popular, so more politicians claimed it as their own. Winnie Ewing, Scottish National Party President 1987–2005, suggested that the honorary doctorate she received from the OU in 1993 was ‘in recognition of my role in establishing it’. One Liberal claimed that, ‘the idea owes its inception to a meeting at the Liberal Party Council at least a year earlier as any Liberal pamphlet for the year 1962 can amply demonstrate’.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 30. The Open University in Wales.

Monday, November 12th, 2018

This is an image of some successful OU students in Wales. They are the first cohort of students to gain the Certificate of Higher Education in Social Care Practice (Wales). See here.

Wales was not always treated as such a distinctive entity.In common with many other post-war projects the OU developed out of the centralised wartime state as a unitary institution to serve the whole nation. This reflected attitudes in the 1960s when there was little interest in nationalism in Scotland and Wales. In 1971 the editor of the Times Educational Supplement, referred to ‘England’s Open University’.

The first advertisement for a Regional Director for Wales made no reference to the need to speak Welsh. A new advertisement was written. Harford Williams was appointed. He held numerous television interviews and lectures and has been credited with the rise of over 10 per cent in applications within the country. Today the OU operates on the principle that in the conduct of public business in Wales, the English and Welsh languages are of equal status. The Open University offers Welsh medium assessment, (including written assignments, examinations, projects and theses in all subject areas) to its students and provides assessment in accordance with the student’s linguistic preference.  Wales was also where telephone tutorials were developed. Heddwyn Richards established a system in Wales whereby students used free-standing loudspeaker telephones. After press reports of this, the GPO which ran the phone system, complained but later a concession was granted. It was in recognition of the importance of all the nations that the Vice-Chancellor John Daniel paid tribute to his Welsh roots and chose to be installed in Cardiff in 1990. In 2018 OU student research on Welsh History became available online. This research was conducted by students studying the Open University module, ‘The Making of Welsh History’. Today the OU operates from Cardiff and across the country as the leading provider of part-time undergraduate higher education and supported distance learning. There are 7000 students and 300 Associate Lecturers.

In the Betty Boothroyd Library on the Walton Hall campus there is a nod towards the importance of the Welsh language on the window. See image and video discussion.

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 10. OU Collected texts

Monday, June 25th, 2018

 

From the start many OU students found access to an academic library difficult. In recognition of this collections of important articles and chapters were collated, bound and posted out to students. Some were co-published, with the OU logo on the cover.

This week’s object has been proposed by Alan Shipman. A former business journalist now teaching and researching at the OU Alan has taught (among other topics) personal finance and his research interests include Chinese multinational business and the foundations of the market economy.

In the below five bullet points Alan Shipman reflects on why Decisions, Organizations and Society: Selected Readings, edited by FG Castles, DJ Murray and DC Potter; Penguin Books in association with the Open University Press, deserves to be an OU symbol 50 years on:

  • It’s one of the ‘selected readings’ collections that gave students a whirlwind tour through the classic ideas and authors in a subject area, explained and contextualised by short introductory notes by the editors. These were widely used by other universities, and had a general nonstudent readership, thanks to co-publishing and the availability of cheap paperback editions. Authors featured in the readings include some who were rising to prominence then, and are still influential 50 years on: eg Herbert Simon (management sciences, organisational psychology, economics); Mancur Olson, Robert Dahl, Ralph Miliband (political science), Tom Bottomore (sociology).
  • It’s one of the earliest, published in 1971, and is edited by 3 prominent academics who’d already joined the OU (David Murray was Professor of Government, David Potter a Senior Lecturer and Francis Castles a Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences).
  • It shows how the OU was, from the start, instrumental in promoting social sciences and breaking through their disciplinary boundaries – the readings focus on topics that transcend these (power, decisionmaking, organisation, hierarchy) and so they mix politics, economics, sociology, cognitive psychology, social psychology and management studies).
  • It shows how the OU’s wide audience facilitated partnerships with leading mass-market publishers, including Penguin.
  • The editors’ writing style also contains some heroic early attempts to escape the institutionalised sexism of the times. From their introductory definitions: “Two ladies meet in a dark street, whereupon one lady deliberately stops, produces a pistol and demands money from the second lady. There is decision (the first lady could have chosen to walk on down the street), and there is power (the second lady’s behaviour is controlled as a result of her relation with the first lady)…

The three editors.

As well as contributing to Decisions, Organizations and Society: Selected Readings Frank Castles also offered a critique of the organization of the OU itself. Having taught face-to-face in universities in York and Australia he had, on arriving at the OU, to adapt to the system he termed ‘Divide and teach: the new division of labour’, in Jeremy Tunstall, The Open University Opens, 1974. Castles found that the OU’s division of labour, with central academics, local tutors, educational technologists, the BBC, a variety of outside expert advisors, counsellors and specialist summer school teaching staff, led to ‘tensions… suspicion and conflict … bitter disputes … enormously increased work-load’. However, he concluded that it was such role specialization which ‘makes the Open University possible at all’.

David Potter, a Berkeley graduate BA 1954, MA, 1959, gained a PhD from the LSE (1962). He worked at Oakland University in Michigan and published on British imperialism in Asia and post-independence consequences. His first book was Government in Rural India, 1964. He then went to Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada where he earned tenure in 1969. Shortly afterwards, in the same year, 11 members of the 16-strong Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology Department were not granted tenure, which, in effect, meant that they were fired. Potter supported their protest strike and was himself fired. He came to the Open University. He was appointed as a Professor of Political Science in 1989 and had 15 of his books published by 2002, when he was designated a Honorary graduate of the university. On retirement he was made a professor emeritus.

David Murray joined the OU in September 1969 as Professor of Government. He chaired and was a member of several main OU committees before being seconded to the University of the South Pacific between 1975 and 1978. In 1980 he was made Chair of the Examinations and Assessment Committee. Between 1983 and 1988 he was a Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He then helped to set up The Open University of Hong Kong before becoming a Pro-Vice-Chancellor again in 1990–91. He subsequently worked with the Higher Education Quality Council (which became The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) and retired in 1999.

50 objects for 50 years No 8. The Wilson Building

Monday, June 11th, 2018

As Mary Wilson died a few days ago on June 6 2018, this week’s object commemorates her family’s contribution to OU by considering the Wilson Building on the Walton Hall campus, seen on this video.

It is here that Harold’s role is outlined. He had a vision of a university of the air and, as Prime Minister, he had the clout, to ensure that his idea, voiced in 1963, was developed by Jennie Lee and others and implemented by 1969.

Mary and Harold married in 1940 and had two sons. One son, Giles, became a teacher and later a train driver. The other, Robin (born in 1943) taught at the OU. After a difficult start, as the interview panel was anxious not to be seen to favour the son of a Prime Minister, Robin was appointed. His significant academic qualifications and huge enthusiasm were soon demonstrated. He became a Professor, the Head of the Mathematics Department and a Dean of his Faculty. Despite the supercilious portrayal of an OU mathematics don called Robin by Cambridge graduate Hugh Laurie in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Robin Wilson’s innovative and supportive teaching of mathematics (he is pictured above) has been fondly remembered by many students. Numerous OU learners have memories of the frightening and incomprehensible world of school maths dispelled by Robin’s engaging ability to teach.

The Wilsons were able to see beyond party politics. Robin graciously recognised the role of Margaret Thatcher in the development of the OU, calling her its ‘stepmother’. Her role at the OU has been assessed elsewhere.  Mary Wilson attended Thatcher’s funeral. She was also present at one of Harold’s last public engagement’s, the opening of the OU building named in his honour.

Wilson’s press secretary called the OU Wilson’s ‘monument’.  The description is an apt one if the reference is to the words written for Christopher Wren, lector si monumentum requiris circumspice (‘Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you’).

The story of the Wilsons is reminder that for many families once one person becomes involved with the OU other family members become entangled. Couples married after meeting at residential schools, there are many staff who have spouses, and offspring working for the OU and many students swear that it was the support of family members which got them through their degrees. If you visit the OU’s Milton Keynes campus, when you next pass the Wilson building, give it a second glance and maybe give a nod to Harold.

50 objects for 50 years. No 6

Monday, May 28th, 2018

‘I’m the self inflicted, mind detonator…I’m a Firestarter’

Each Monday I present a new object. In this weather those not frantically revising may well be enjoying barbeques. So I’ve selected an appropriate element as my object of the week. As a clue to what it is, I’ve turned to an OU module so fresh that it hasn’t even been presented. Environment and Society, DD213, is due for release in October 2018. Here is a sneak preview of the opening sentence:

Fire is both a naturally occurred chemical reaction on Earth and a tool adapted by humans. It can modify environments and serve to shape social interactions between individuals, groups of humans and the places in which they live.

The idea of something which is essential, which can modify environments and shape social relations can be applied to education.When, at its opening on 24th April 1969, the OU’s first Chancellor Lord Crowther sought an image for the human mind he compared it ‘to a fire
which can be set alight and blown with the divine afflatus’.

Crowther contrasted this idea of an inspiration, which comes from the word inspire, meaning to breathe or blow onto, with the image of the mind as a vessel into which one could pour knowledge. The OU, by providing intellectual tinder and matches, could inspire learners to light the fire in their bellies, or minds. Moreover, they were encouraged to seek out tutors and fire questions at them. It also brings to mind the legend of the phoenix, a bird which regenerates through fire. The distinctive avian pops up in the series of stories about a character who appears to have limited opportunities until his life is transformed when he attends an educational establishment, Harry Potter.

At the time of the OU’s opening a popular educationalist was Paulo Freire. Freire argued that much of what was called education amounted to ‘educational banking’. Teachers filled the heads of learners with their narratives, even if these narratives were not relevant to the learners. Treating learners as ‘‘receiving objects’, reinforced existing social relations and impeded the development of a student’s critical consciousness. It required students to be passive and did not encourage dialogue. Transmission-focused teaching prevented students from renewing cultural knowledge through thoughtful conversations. However, Freire argued, this was not the only way to proceed. If learning involved the learners and encouraged activity and non-hierarchical, dialogue, then, through that learning, people could ‘make and remake themselves’. Learners, could make their own meanings with the new knowledge they constructed being based on what they already knew and what they were trying to achieve. This idea of learning, not as pouring cold water, but lighting fires, was perhaps in Crowther’s mind when he spoke back in 1969. At the OU’s first degree ceremony, in 1973, an honorary doctorate was presented Freire.

Crowther’s image might have reminded listeners of the importance of air for combustion, how the circulation of air can ensure that thinking is not congested, how the airwaves could be used to deliver the materials and support the interactions necessary for learning. Yet, while OU broadcasts travelled through the ether, the university did not emerge out of thin air, nor were its subsequent achievements confined to the realm of the abstract.

Crowther’s image of fire may also have built on associations of fire with truth, sometimes a rather painful disruptive truth. While fire serves many other functions in stories and songs there are plenty of literary reminders of this role. These include the Biblical account of Moses who rather unwillingly received Divine Instruction from a fire, a burning bush in a desert of ignorance. Luke cites Jesus as  holding the revolutionary and disruptive view that ‘I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!’ When exiled Russian revolutionaries established, in 1900, what became the most successful underground Russian newspaper in 50 years, they called it Iskra (Spark). The name was later adopted by the OU branch of the University and College Union for its newsletter.

Fire’s association with truth was perhaps reinforced by the comic inversion of this in Hillaire Belloc’s 1907 poem Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death which [plot spoiler alert] concludes as below:

For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

While for students, education can be the lighting of a fire which provides warmth, they are also entangled in their societies, communities, families. Others around them, witnesses to the changes, can feel burned. In a play, later film, about an OU student, Educating Rita, Rita’s husband resents the time she spends studying. A genuine student, interviewed in an early study of the OU, captured the sense of the challenges provided by learning through the OU when she summarised her experience thus: ‘It messes up your whole life, but it’s worth it.’

A century before the OU Louisa May Alcott wrote her novel Little Women. In this she sets out some of the emotions you might associate with writing a TMA which can involve both inspiration and perspiration:

She did not think herself a genius by any means; but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon….The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her “vortex,” hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.

Having started with the Prodigy, I’ll conclude with Elvis Costello, who reminded us that indoor fireworks while they can ‘dazzle or delight or bring a tear’ can also ‘still burn your fingers’. Education, sociable, collaborative engagement which enables you to see things in a different light, can be edgy, risky, can throw your preconceptions over a cliff or into a furnace. But that is also its pleasure.

50 objects for 50 years. No 5. The logo

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Walter Perry, the University’s Vice-Chancellor is  said to have had the idea for the original logo in 1969 and Douglas Clark, Director of Design produced it. Something like 40 versions were produced with different proportions and different positions for the the roundel, the‘O’. Perry and Clark argued for the roundel not to be centred and won. The BBC objected, because it felt that as the logo would appear on the television the Corporation should make the decision.

Looking at the logo of the simple circle of a moon (O) in the dark sky of the U reminds me that the OU has taken over from night schools. These opportunities for part-time adult study had developed in the UK in association with industrialisation. The first opened in Salford in 1772 was aimed at for adult mechanics. Similar institutions followed as did sandwich courses at universities, university courses for non-enrolled students, and a London Society for the Extension of University teaching. Outside the HE system the WEA was founded 1903. Harold Wilson’s original idea was to connect existing extramural departments, the WEA, broadcasters, correspondence courses and night classes together to create a scheme for degrees to be awarded by an established university. He did not initially envisage an institution with a charter and autonomy but a consortium of existing universities using television and the post. When creating the OU Jennie Lee MP was keen to stay well away from that image of adult education.

We have a great tradition of adult education in this country but we have to be careful that it does not become a little dowdy and mouldy. The days when people would go out to the old-fashioned night schools and sit on hard benches are receding. They are now looking for a different kind of environment. There was a kind of passion for hair shirts from hon. Members opposite today, a passion I do not share.


Here
 Romy Wood shares her thoughts on how University branding could help or hinder learners. She suggests that there might be people for whom the word ‘university’ is off-putting. For some it ‘might bring to mind for older people late night BBC programmes where men in corduroy jackets pointed at blackboards’.

The RP37A VHF Herald Hacker radio was issued for use in Study Centres. The OU version was blue and had the logo in place of the local stations. It had a telescopic aerial and was an FM-only radio as in the early 1970s, OU television programmes were on BBC2 and radio programmes on Radio 3 VHF.

Perhaps the O is also a globe, for the OU logo is familiar around the world and the OU is a global brand. Most other distance learning universities have the name ‘Open’ in their title. The Catalan logo echoes that of the British one.

The unlocked lock of the Netherlands also pays homage to the original. It is echoed in the Australian version.

One can see the O resting in the U in India’s version.

 

Pakistan’s Allama Iqbal OU might be seen to include a moon, but it is crescent not a full moon. Nevertheless it retains the word Open.

An exception is the Open University of Japan (放送大学, Hōsō Daigaku. It was, until 2007, called (in English) The University of the Air. The focus of the name was on the medium, not the message. Perhaps that swoosh might be television signals.

The OU logo has been available in a variety of media. It became mobile on the television screen, with the O turning. The image became synonymous with learning. In the TV series Life on Mars (first broadcast 2006–07) the time-travelling central character’s understanding of his situation was significantly improved through a late night OU-style television programme which offered highly relevant knowledge. It has changed over time. Here is a striped version.

There was also a 21st century, rather more glassy, variant. It still retains that  ‘O’ and ‘U’ combined reminiscent of Barbara Hepworth (whose son taught at the OU) and also  resembling the coat of arms such as one might expect from a venerable educational institution. The OU does have a Coat of Arms and that may well feature in another week.

The current version is very similar to the original. Perhaps you have memories of the introduction of the updates? There was even a signature tune to accompany it. This was the first five bars of Leonard Salzedo’s 1959 composition, Divertimento. However, that piece of music, is an object (if that is best term) for another day. Information on the history of the logo can be found in ‘Armorial Bearings of The Open University’ by N. Woods (1992).