The recent announcement to staff at the OU that current economic frameworks indicate that the OU needs to market itself is a reminder that the OU has always been in the marketplace, and that it has long had an interest in sustaining popularity. For many years other state-funded universities did not feel any need to compete. Until the era of grant-funding these institutions selected young people who often studied at the university near their homes. Even after grants were provided many universities felt little need to prove themselves worthy either to the public at large or the politicians.
By contrast the OU has always been out there, seeking and gaining, popular acclaim. This is because
- It has roots in the commercial sector – notably correspondence courses and Fordist production methods and divisions of labour. It is not afraid of the marketplace
- Its teaching materials could be scrutinised as they appeared on public television. It has been a talking pointing in ways other universities have not.
- Initially it was directly controlled by the Minister, rather than being run through the same committee that other universities were. It was subject to debates in Parliament and closer investigation than other universities.
- Its Charter commitment is to the social goal of ‘the educational well-being of the community generally’. From the start it has felt a need to engage with its market. This has never been an institution designed simply to train or corral an elite.