On Sunday 28th April 2013 the Independent on Sunday listed ‘the 100 British women who, arguably, have done most to shape the world we live in today’. They included two women associated with the OU, Betty Boothroyd, the former OU Chancellor and Jennie Lee about whom it was written ‘her legacy as a minister in Harold Wilson’s government included the setting up of the Open University’.
It was 41 years ago that Iain Macleod the Chancellor of the Exchequer died. The death occurred at 11.35pm on 20 July 1970 while he was in 11 Downing Street and, according to Patricia Hollis p. 339, while the papers which would enable him to close the OU were on his desk. Macleod is credited with the view that the OU was ‘blithering nonsense’ (Daily Telegraph, 17 February, 1969). The first Dean of Arts at the OU, John Ferguson, said that Macleod’s view of the OU was that he was
rigorously and almost fanatically against it… had declared publicly that if the thing were set up, his party would abolish it… There is no doubt that Macleod’s sudden death, lamentable for national leadership in other ways, eased the University’s infancy (Ferguson, The Open University from within, pp. 13, 26).
Although Macleod’s last testament ‘acquired a special sanctity from the untimely death of its author’, Thatcher, motivated according to George Gardiner, by ‘her strong belief in giving educational opportunity to those prepared to work for it’, kept the OU. (more…)
This is no more than you would expect, given the significant role women have played in the OU’s history - amongst its founders, as staff members at all levels and as a significant proportion of the student body.
This blog has already looked at the role of Jennie Lee, the minister tasked with making the OU a reality and who left such a stamp on its institutional formation. Some other significant women in the University’s history are covered in an article on Platform today. And of course, some would argue that the OU has played a role in the struggle for women’s equality, but has been denigrated as a ‘housewives’ university’. A previous blogpost looked at some of these issues.
The University of the Air
Today I want to outline new proposals on which we are work in, a dynamic programme providing facilities for home study to university and higher technical standards, on the basis of a University of the Air and of nationally organised correspondence college courses.
He used the term again in a speech at the Labour Party Conference on 1 October, 1963. On 25 February 1966 the Labour government published a white paper, ‘A University of the Air’. George Catlin used the term in 1960 and Michael Young in 1962.[i] Anglia TV broadcast a series called College of the Air in 1963. Versions of the term had been used before prior to this time. (more…)
extraordinarily effective [at] forcing through changes which were either deeply unpopular or of no interest to her Labour colleagues… The very existence of the Open University can be linked to Jennie’s grinding determination to see the project through on her own terms… the Open University is one of the most enduring monuments to the Wilson years, made possible by Jennie’s stubborn resistance to its abandonment or dilution.
Approaching 50 current and former staff and students gathered in the Library yesterday to discuss elements of the Open University’s history. Opening Up The Open University generated a lively debate on issues such as how successful the University has been in being ‘open’, the relationship between technology and pedagogy, and the impact the OU has had on the world of higher education more broadly.
Those attending also took the opportunity to celebrate Jennie Lee’s 106th birthday, with a cake featuring her photograph. In true OU multimedia style, the day was peppered with audio and visual clips, including from the recently concluded Oral History Project. See other blog posts for more details.
Jennie was the Minister in Harold Wilson’s government responsible for setting up The Open University. It would be hard to argue that the OU would exist in its current form without her influence. For more information about her see here.
To celebrate we are hosting a workshop – Opening Up The Open University. For more information see here. There will be a full report of the workshop posted here over the next few weeks.
Today, 5 June 201o, the NHS is 62 years old and, I trust, not yet ready to be retired. This posting is about how it was an inspiration for the OU. The NHS was a policy which owed much to the 1942 Beveridge Report, a report of such significance that Jennie Lee made it the central plank of her by-election campaign of that year. She didn’t win that seat but she did win another and was returned to the Commons in 1945, along with her spouse, Nye Bevan. He was the Minister who introduced the NHS. In 1964 Jennie Lee, by then widowed, was given the task of ensuring that an idea for a university of the air became reality and she made a connection to her late husband. The PM, Harold Wilson recalled her contribution when the Cabinet and Labour Party National Executive Committee met at Chequers prior to the 1966 General Election:
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.
During the first few years after the OU campus in Milton Keynes was opened much of the new town was a series of rather desolate muddy building sites. Jennie arranged for the Bevan Fund to pay for a bar to be installed in Walton Hall and she hung Nye’s cap and a photo of him there. The first Vice Chancellor of the OU, Walter Perry, called this new meeting place ’a godsend’ and said that it was the ‘focal point for much of the early discussion and planning’.