Access to the online back issues of The Economist has been secured for OU staff. A glance through the archives indicates that in 1963 The Economist ‘warmly welcomed’ the OU and called it ‘one of the best things that he [Harold Wilson] has done’. In 1965 it said that the idea of a University of the Air had been ‘long supported by this journal’. In 1979 it reported that the OU had ‘moved away from the over-the-air teaching’ and noted the importance of regional centres and correspondence. To mark forty years of broadcasts it lapsed into ahistoric clichés. Although most of the course materials were printed and late-night television only started after a couple of years, here we are told that
OU lectures delivered remotely by hirsute professors, who dryly enumerated the laws of thermodynamics on late-night television, appealed only to the most dedicated of older people, determined to better themselves in their spare time
The median age of applicants in 1971 was 26-27 and if there were ‘bespectacled dons sporting dodgy double-knit jumpers’ then there was also some very well-presented teaching materials. Indeed an early criticism of the OU programmes was that they were ‘slickly professional’ (Conrad Russell, TES 1971).
While The Economist concludes that ‘the OU might turn out to offer a vision of the future’, an understanding of how that vision could be realised would be strengthened by a more sophisticated view of the development of the OU.