Archive for February 4th, 2019

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.