The UCU (University and College Union) recently commissioned a report, Universities at risk. The impact of cuts in higher education spending on local economies, which concluded that across England, 49 universities were at risk of closure and that, of all the pre-92 universities, the OU is most at risk. It features in the list of 22 HEIs at ‘high medium’ level of potential impact from the proposals made in the Browne Review (2010), Securing a sustainable future for higher education. This means that the OU has at least eight of the maximum of 12 ‘risk’ points. A recent survey of university leaders revealed that nine out of ten expect an institution to close due to financial pressures. The OU has faced the possibility of closure before. In the past it rallied students and staff to defend it. (more…)
Today Open University scientist are regularly seen in all forms of news media and are currently most often seen providing high level comment on Iceland’s volcano cloud. Thirty years ago, a more controversial issue hit the headlines that also affected its close relationship with the BBC.
In 1980 the BBC cancelled a lecture on nuclear arms by the Dean of Science Michael Pentz. The BBC told the University that is was ‘inappropriate and unsuitable’. The lecture had already been filmed and the cancellation prompted an outcry including an emergency motion in the Senate. The BBC was at the same time facing criticisism for its decision not to screen The War Game, a film about nuclear war made for the twentieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing in 1965 but not shown until 1985.
Pentz was a well known peace campaigner, a member of CND Council and Chair of the Milton Keynes Peace Campaign but he explained: ‘It is not appropriate in an educational lecture to indulge in polemics, but it is appropriate for the relevant facts to be drawn to public attention. I’m not a complete nit-wit and I realised that I had to be very careful.’
The lecture entitled Towards the final abyss? A scientist’s view of the nuclear arms race was the third in an Open Lecture series. It was finally broadcast in February 1981 on condition that it was followed by a studio discussion (see Sesame, 70, January/February 1981).
Mike Pentz, the Open University’s first Dean of Science, died 15 years ago this week. An obituary can be read here.
With today’s technology, harnessing observations from a mass of volunteers to contribute to a body of knowledge has become more common.
The Open University has received plaudits for its recently ugraded ispot site which encourages users to post images to help name the flower, plant, insect or animal seen and share observations with others. When put together a broader picture of the wildlife of the country will be created. Changes over time will become apparent as data accumulates. This is linked to a new introductory course, Neighbourhood Nature, which includes iSpot as a field based activity.
Another OU based project is Creative Climate, which will present and archive a body of stories of people’s experiences and experiments with environmental change over a ten year period (from 2009).
But these projects have echoes from the University’s past. Forty years ago today an OU press release announced ‘Home-degree “army” to attack air pollution’. The University was in the process of recruiting its first students for a 1971 start and proclaimed that the 8,000 students taking its first year science course would be carrying out a ‘never-done-before “blanket” analysis – from air samples taken on their doorsteps.’ It claimed ‘the mass tests are expected to provide government and local authorities with vital data needed to overcome pollution hazards as they may exist district by district… A survey of this magnitude has not been possible before because of the heavy cost and organisational problems involved in setting up such a field task force.’
The press release announced that students would be supplied with ‘home experiment kits’ to carry out the pollution probe: ‘the country-wide data will be processed by automatic document reading and computer facilities at the University and passed on to official agencies dealing with air pollution who have welcomed the plan.’