Anniversary of the death of Walter Perry

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Eight years ago,on 16 July 2003, Lord Perry of Walton, founding Vice-Chancellor, died. Professor Walter Perry, Vice-Principal Edinburgh University was appointed The Open University’s first Vice-Chancellor. Part of his vision for the OU was that it could domore than teach Degrees to adults part-time.He saw that it could disrupt higher education: 

It wasn’t that I had any deep-seated urge to mitigate the miseries of the depressed adult; it was that I was persuaded that the standard of teaching in conventional universities was pretty deplorable.  It suddenly struck me that if you could use the media and devise course materials that would work for students all by themselves, then inevitably you were bound to affect – for good – the standard of teaching in conventional universities. 

In a review of Walter Perry’s Open University: a personal account (26.Nov 1975 THES) Asa Briggs suggested that it was to become

of great value to future historians and it deserves to be studied carefully now by everyone interested both in the Open University as a highly successful pioneering institution and in the operations of the British educational system as a whole. 

Acquire a solid base before leaping forwards

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

According to Cherwell, 177 dons have no confidence in the Universities Minister, David Willets,  Jonathan Black, the director of a careers service and Fellow of New College, Oxford sees this as a wider lack of confidence in the government.  Elsewhere there is a lack of confidence in changes which are being made to universities. Although she is against charging higher tuition fees Valérie Pécresse, the minister for higher education and research of France has still succeeded in provoking professors and students to take to the streets (in both 2007 and 2009) and demand her resignation. She has argued for 15 big universities across the country. This has echoes of an idea associated with former Open University VC John Daniel, who coined the word mega-university (see Daniel, John S (1996) Mega-universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education, Kogan Page, London). He, however, looked to the past, noting that Walter Perry ‘did more than anyone to build the foundations for today’s mega-universities. It is largely because of him that we can use the word ‘mega’ about these institutions’. Perhaps if Ministers better understood the evolution of the OU then academics would have more faith in their pronouncements about the best way forwards.

Early use of the term ‘University of the Air’

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The University of the Air

The term ‘University of the Air’ was used by Harold Wilson on 8September 1963 when he announced plans for the body which became the OU. He said

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…)

Harold Wilson’s big idea

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Wilson’s speech in September 1963 is often seen as the beginnings of the OU. It is called ‘Wilson’s vision’, here. But from where did he get his ideas? One source was William Benton. Benton sponsored Harold Wilson’s trips to the USA in 1960, 1961 and 1962,and Wilson felt that Benton’s ‘heart was in academics and in politics’ (Harold Wilson,  Memoirs: The Making of a Prime Minister, 1916-64, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986). It was Benton who suggested in 1963 that Wilson and he have dinner with Geoffrey Crowther, the Vice Chair of the Editorial Board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) who, as chair of the Central Advisory Council for Education was responsible for the The Crowther Report – Fifteen to Eighteen (1959). Benton chaired EB. Crowther went to become the Foundation Chancellor of the OU.  The first Vice Chancellor of the OU, Walter Perry, argued that Benton was one of the men whose vision of education for all, through correspondence teaching and the use of the mass media contributed to the decision to found the Open University (Walter Perry, Report of the Vice-Chancellor to the council, 1972, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 1973, p. 30) (more…)

Looking forwards to past broadcasts

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Today is the anniversary of the broadcast of the OU’s final course-related television programme. At 5.30am on 16 December 2006 Art: a question of style: neo-classicism and romanticism was screened. Its conclusion brought to an end 36 years of broadcasting history. In this blog we’ve used photographs and other still images. In 2011, to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1st OU television programmes in January 1971, we aim to link to a clip of the first Open Forum.  It was an attempt to support not merely teaching through transmission but learning through colloboration. Indeed the first Vice Chancellor, Walter Perry felt that ‘like Sesame, Open Forum plays an important role in our informal communications system’ (Walter Perry, Report of the Vice-Chancellor to the council, 1972, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 1973, p. 85). 


Bumper birthday weekend

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

This weekend would have marked the 90th birthday of Sir Kenneth Berrill, University Pro-Chancellor 1983-96, who died in April last year. Following 20 years as a university economics lecturer, Berrill was appointed chair of the University Grants Committee in 1969 and then Chief Economic Advisor at the Treasury. After a brief spell in the City, during which he had taken up the Open University’s Pro-Chancellorship, he became chairman of the Securities and Investment Board, the precursor of the Financial Services Authority. (more…)

OU students keep getting younger

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

In the last week there has been extensive media coverage of the large numbers of potential students who are unable to obtain a university place following the publication of A’ level results. Prominent amongst that coverage has been David Willets statement that school leavers should consider The Open University (alongside FE colleges and apprenticeships) as an alternative. Meanwhile spokespeople for the OU have also been popping up advocating this course of action. This is likely to contribute to the trend towards younger people signing up for the OU. (more…)

Maggie & the OU

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I was at an OU Graduation Ceremony at the Barbican a couple of weeks ago. In his address the Chancellor, Lord Puttnam, spoke briefly about the origins of the University, and in addition to the usual mention of Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee, paid tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who turned out to be a powerful supporter. Walter Perry, in his book “The Open University” recalls a meal with her: She suggested first that our main activity would be to offer courses on ‘hobbies’. I fear that I needle very easily [...] The exchanges were sharp, short and furious. I am happy to say that , in spite of it all, we ended on a friendly note. [...] When she became Minister of Education after the Tory victory in 1970 we had reason to be glad of that dinner.

The history of The Open University: foundations

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
This blog is, in part, an appeal for help. It is motivated by the research which seems to indicate that blogs can promote a sense of community and reciprocity, that if we are encouraged to reflect and share our ideas and skills then the research outcomes will be all the better. I’d like to work with those who have got memories or ideas which will improve our understanding of the development of the OU. One of the difficulties about starting any history is where to begin. While the roots of any organisation, or shift in consciousness often evolved over generations, there is often a catalyst which accounts for the formal foundation. In the case of the OU the three people who are credited with playing significant parts in the creation of the OU, Jennie Lee, Michael Young and Harold Wilson might be taken as exemplifying longer-term trends and understandings. Michael Young’s passion for using television for education and for social justice aided the foundation while from Harold Wilson there derived the enthusiasm for a technological future, for a society with modern science at its core. Jennie Lee’s input was more focused on the traditions of the Labour Party’s interest in providing equal opportunities for adults to better themselves. While Michael Young had worked for the Labour Party, it was the latter two politicians who helped to structure an idea of a ‘university of the air’ into the reality of the OU.
Does this account uncritcally reflect the ideas expressed by Walter Perry in 1976 ? He wrote:
The concept of the Open University evolved from the convergence of three major postwar trends. The first of these concerns developments in the provision for adult education, the second the growth of educational broadcasting and the third the political obhjective of promoting the spread of egalitarianism in education
This blog is one of the places where new ideas about the origins of the OU can be aired.  If the OU was an outcome of concern about adult education why was it a university rather than a more vocational college? If educational broadcasting was of such significance why have most of the teaching materials in print form and if it was a response an interest in ‘egalitarianism in education’ how come many of its users had already been socially upwardly mobile longf before they registered as students? If this framework looks unreasonable, if you have an understanding of the foundation which is at variance with the above focus, do let us know.