Grandad, you’re lovely

Writing in the THES on 6th October 2011, Martin Bean argued that the ‘vital work’ of the OU was to support widening participation and social mobility. He went on to refer to the history of the OU, using a familial image:

I recently heard The Open University described as the “grandaddy” of widening participation into education. The title was gratifying, but being the grandaddy brings with it a responsibility to work with the rest of the higher education sector and the government to ensure that we do what is necessary to provide the best possible opportunities – and outcomes – for future generations…. we must redouble our efforts to ensure that all of those who wish to study are able to do so.

The VC also stressed not a line from the song Grandad, ‘Now my days are gone’ but instead that the tradition of the OU being the ‘university of the second chance’ was being maintained. He referred to the importance of ‘giving all prospective students a chance, fuelling social mobility and helping to make the UK a fairer country’ as being ‘at the heart of The Open University’s mission’. This echoes earlier accounts of the OU by the VC. For example to the University Alliance he stressed that ‘Widening participation in higher education is at the core of the OU’s mission, which was recognised when the University was awarded the 2009 Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its work training teachers in Africa’  

For this engagement with a range of students the OU has clear precedents and experience. In 1976, The Open University invited Peter Venables (1904-1979) a former vice-chair of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and former Chair the Planning Committee of the OU to chair a committee on continuing education. He was the University’s first Pro-Chancellor and he chaired the OU’s Council between 1969 and 1974. His 1977 report supported expansion into this area and paved the way for growth into business and social health. The OU also unemployed students. From 1982 it received sums from the DES to cover the cost of the fees of unemployed students. Assistance from these funds rose by 34% 1985-1990. In the late 1990s part-time students studying 60 credits or more who were on benefit or low incomes became eligible for fee grants and study cost loans, while part-time students who were registered disabled became eligible (on the same basis as full-time students) for disabled student allowances which included resources for educational assessment, specialist equipment, and non-medical helpers. In 2001, the Open University was able to offer free places to 18,750 students on benefits and low income and to give Disabled Student Allowances to 2,200 disabled students.

It is pertinent then, that the History of The Open University Project has organised a forthcoming forum about the diverse range of experiences of students. See here.

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