Lest we forget: those who served


Whether it is World War 1, World War 2 or any other war or conflict, this is a year when the big upheavals of the last century have been at the forefront of our collective memory, as well as any personal memory. The phrase “Lest we forget” comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and has been used to remember and commemorate those lost in combat.

My generation have and had parents who survived World War 2 and grandparents who lived through World War 1.

My cousins recovered a photograph of my late maternal grandfather who survived both World Wars. He is featured here in a photograph taken in the 1930s, third from the right. Lucjan Zaleski was an officer in the Polish Army, having first served with the legendary Marshal Jozef Pilsudski in the struggle for Poland’s future. I was named after my grandfather and my brother’s middle name is Jozef.

Any more information about the group in this photograph would be gratefully received. One clue can lead to another!

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Fall of the Berlin Wall: Hester Vaizey’s new book

Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

The youth of the GDR are in "psychological chaos".

The youth of the GDR are in “psychological chaos”.

Hester Vaizey’s new book is one of a clutch of gripping reads reflecting on the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Other books will track exactly what happened, but this one captures individual case stories and brings to light – and to life- what the Fall of the Wall was for East Germans. Eight East Germans give their account of the transition from Communism to Capitalism.

This is highly recommended because the author listens and with her subjects tries to make sense of a picture that is not necessarily black and white, but shades of grey and even colour. It is most insightful about loss, disconnection and disorientation.

The book provides a salutary reminder that much as the modern world- particularly the media when its coverage is superficial-like clean cuts and clean breaks, there is no one truth, but many truths and many interpretations. And that so-called “events”, however “historic”, are steps along the way, the build-up of unconscious and unforeseen forces, sometimes cohering, often competing.

As we continue to reach conclusions about being on the right or wrong side of history, I recall this piece of wisdom from one of our finest scholars. As the historian Asa Briggs and former Open University man told me last year, “History does not teach you anything. But historians might.”

Oh, and this is about the time when we journalists in newsrooms all got excited about “people power” before reality set in years later and we realised “regimes” can have good days and bad, but there is no substitute for a continuous nurturing of liberal democracy, respect for rule of law, human rights, freedom of expression and free and properly organised political parties. Contrast the Arab Spring with where we are now…

I was reminded of that day in November, 1989, working as a producer on the BBC Nine O’Clock News, liasing with our top correspondent the late Brian Hanrahan. Six years later I was proud to have him as one of my presenters on BBC World’s Newsdesk programme as he and other presenters such as Nik Gowing and Tim Sebastian pioneered the BBC’s 24-hour live television news.

No journalism of attachment, Brian told me again and again, only telling it as it is with a critical and sceptical eye. This was Brian’s 10th anniversary account of the Fall of the Berlin Wall:


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OU Combined Communications Conference 2014

Martin Bean speaking at OU Combined Communications Conference 2014

Martin Bean speaking at OU Combined Communications Conference 2014

Suzy McGill in full flow on creative brand expression. Who needs a new brand expression  when we can have Suzy?

Suzy McGill in full flow on creative brand expression. Who needs a new brand expression when we can have Suzy?

More stars at the OU Combined Communications Conference: the thoughtful Wojtek Lubowiecki and the ultra-talented Lauren Hutton

More stars at the OU Combined Communications Conference: the thoughtful Wojtek Lubowiecki and the ultra-talented Lauren Hutton

Top man Ian Roddis, Deputy Director of Communications and Head of Digital Engagement. Poise and calm in the most turbulent situations.

Top man Ian Roddis, Deputy Director of Communications and Head of Digital Engagement. Poise and calm in the most turbulent situations.

Three stars at OU Combined Communications Conference: Caroline Dickens, Kathryn Baldwin and David Meadows

Three stars at OU Combined Communications Conference: Caroline Dickens, Kathryn Baldwin and David Meadows

Every year, with the support of Marketing and Communications teams, I convene a conference bringing together colleagues from across The Open University to share our achievements and initiatives. This year we had a particularly high number of academics from across all our seven faculties and two institutes.

This time we also used the conference to equip our academics, associate lecturers and other ambassadors with the latest tools and techniques so that they can be even more effective in their communication with target audiences. We had some great external speakers, including Judy Friedberg, The Guardian’s Universities Editor and Christophe Jouan from the Future Foundation.

Our outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean, was an extraordinary hit, speaking about the need for being authentic and engaging meaningfully. He did so by example, inviting questions that were often probing and challenging. Many of us were very moved as we recognised that this might be one of his last major occasions here on the OU campus.

As I said in my tweet @LucianHudson:

So much rich insight and ideas shared at our #OU_CCC4 yesterday, captured here by @huttonite http://sfy.co/qlBN #storify

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Canada honours Sir John Daniel, former Vice-Chancellor, The OpenUniversity

Sir John Daniel

Sir John Daniel has been honoured for ‘advancement of open learning and distance education in Canada and around the world’. He tells me that he is pleased because this has indeed been the focus of his career!

To complete the picture, his knighthood, awarded in 1994, the OU’s 25th anniversary year, was for ‘services to higher education’.

Sir John Daniel, Vice-Chancellor 1990-2001, was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor General, the Hon. David Johnston at Government House, Ottawa on September 12, 2014.

His other OU-related honour was the ‘Officier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques’ from France for ’services rendus a la culture française’. Sir John has received national honours from all three countries in which he has lived and work.

Photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall © Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, 2014


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Diplomat blogs: progress since 2007

2007-2008 will forever be an historic year, a milestone in digital diplomacy. It was the year when the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office gave its imprimatur to social media, and officially encouraged and supported its diplomats to start blogging.

This coincided with renewed interest in diplomatic, military, policy and development circles in the use of “soft-power”. In the UK, the Foreign Secretaries who drove this were first Margaret Beckett with her emphasis on climate change and energy security, then David Miliband, who embraced strategic communications and digital diplomacy in a bold and unprecedented way and pursued the climate change and energy security agenda internationally. Ed Miliband was soon to become Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

John Ashton, who served three Foreign Secretaries as Special Adviser on Climate Change, was a critical senior colleague who helped me develop a more campaigning approach to international diplomacy, by being almost messianic on the need to see tackling climate change as the most important policy challenge, and putting value on collaboration at every level of society.

The most recent blog to read is the one below from Nigel Baker, our man at the Vatican, and the FCO Annual Report for 2007-08 gives a full account of communications and public diplomacy.


FCO Departmental Report 2007-08, pages 96 to 99


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Scottish Referendum: pause to reflect, then act wisely

The Open University is a Four Nations University, and takes pride in putting its students at the heart of everything it does. It remained neutral in the campaign, offering the expertise of its academics on specific issues. One angle that interested me the most was how both campaigns, for and against independence, revitalised democracy in Scotland, and will refresh interest in constitutional and political reform across the UK.

As a professional communicator, I found it fascinating to see the dynamics at work between top-down politics (with its emphasis on the words and actions of senior politicians) and ground-up civic engagement (with its emphasis on public engagement and use of social media). The Scottish Referendum was a far-reaching and potentially radicalising event. It has shaken all of us up. Far from being a matter to be resolved “out there” and “over there”, it ended up feeling more immediate, more integral to our sense of national and cultural identity, whether we lived in Scotland or not.

As a result of the referendum campaign, and with all the speculation on the constitutional implications, it is likely that further powers will be devolved to Scotland. However, there will be no immediate impact on OU students in Scotland or those intending to study with the university.

The OU in Scotland’s teaching grant will continue to come from the Scottish Government through the Scottish Funding Council, and the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) will continue to award the Part-Time Fee Grant to OU students who meet the eligibility criteria.

A final personal thought, drawing on my experience at Ministry of Justice, and my time at the FCO, when I was responsible for the devolved government portfolio, promoting the UK and recognising the value of devolution.

It would be ill-advised to think of this decision as having winners and losers. A football match or Rugby match delivers such a clear-cut result. This referendum cut across families, friendships and professional networks. Much has been lost in heated debate: we need to recover what forges stronger links between us.

In the excitement -some would say panic- about the need now to act on the implications of the referendum and the promises made during the campaign, it is important when addressing constitutional and political change to tackle such challenges with a considered and phased approach. I am reminded of the German word, schlimmbessarung, an improvement that makes things worse. This is a time for keeping our nerve and thinking with the head, and not just the heart. The referendum result buys time, and does not drive it.

Planning is critical, and this means building a shared understanding of what to do next. If we want to build on the best of both campaigns – and they each revealed what was right and what was wrong with our politics – improve our political institutions, and restore a sense of what is positive about the union, we should adopt a three-step formula.

First, establish the scope and complexity of the issues, their relative importance and consequences for other ongoing business;

Second, seek broad-based agreement on the objectives and critical success factors to ensure the right buy-in at the outset; and

Third, structure a framework for public and institutional engagement, with clear measures of success.

The referendum is a wonderfully simple decision-making device. The rest that follows is not.

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Stephen Grosz talks about The Examined Life

The psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz has written a remarkable best-seller, a collection of stories based on his meetings with patients. I found it inspiring hearing him speak at the Chiswick Book Festival.

Grosz has a humble, calming and reassuring manner, is genuinely curious and seems to care in an understated and measured way.

Quoting from his book, Grosz said, “We feel unable to go forward and yet we believe that there must be a way. “I want to change, but not if it means changing,” a patient once said to me in complete innocence. Because my work is about helping people to change, this book is about change. And because change and loss are deeply connected- there cannot be change without loss – loss haunts this book.”

Given that all professions have success criteria, I asked him what success was for him as a psychoanalyst. His answer was most thoughtful and forthcoming. Success can be understood in terms of, say, reduction in anxiety, being more at peace with yourself, etc. But he also quoted Winnicott that in relationships we fail to understand the other person, but this shouldn’t worry us. We succeed by failing.

It struck me afterwards, on reflection, that what makes Grosz successful is helping others tell their stories by holding the moment and the space in which they can find their authentic voice. In this sense, Grocz is an author who derives authority from the authenticity of the other.

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Liberal Judaism offers a third-way (article written in my role of Chairman of Liberal Judaism, and published in The Jewish Chronicle 160514)

The growth of the Charedi and secular sections of our community identified by the recent JPR community survey has been much remarked upon. Much less noted has been growth by almost a third of those identifying as progressive.

These figures hide a huge “churn”. Nevertheless, they demonstrate the ability of Liberal Judaism – in the words of a once famous beer advertisement – to reach the Jews other denominations cannot reach.

The trend is confirmed by the increase in the number of Liberal Jewish communities. In the past few weeks we have seen new Liberal communities established in Suffolk and York, bringing the total number to 40. Over 300 people attended our largest ever biennial conference last weekend.

Membership numbers are up, engagement is growing and finances are robust. But the impact of Liberal Judaism is not just about numbers.
Over the years, Progressive Judaism has broken numerous taboos, appointing the first women rabbis, the first openly LGBT rabbis, providing mixed-faith blessings and welcoming the children of such couples on an equal basis, regardless of the gender of the Jewish parent.

Why? Not to annoy more traditional sections of the community nor to modernise for modernity’s sake, but because we believe Judaism must be about positive action, not bloodlines.

It was not enough for Liberal Jews to bless same-sex couples in our synagogues. We put our values into action by playing a leading role in the campaign that has led to the introduction of equal marriage legislation for everyone. It is therefore a matter of great pride for us that one of the country’s very first same sex marriages was blessed by a Liberal rabbi.

It is the same compulsion to put Jewish values into action that has led us to become the first Living Wage certified synagogal movement in the country, for our communities sign up for Fairtrade goods and for our synagogues to go Green.

I realise that this is a manifesto which may alarm other sections of the community. I hope that they will understand that, whatever our disagreements, they are “for the sake of heaven”.

Our biennial conference last weekend was entitled “Radical Roots – Relevant Responses”. Judaism has always been a progressive religion, even within the Orthodox tradition, such as the transition from patrilineality in the Torah to the matrilineality generally followed today.

Progression is present in the rulings of rabbis through the ages which have constantly sought to reinterpret halachah to ensure its relevance to the modern world.

The challenge that Liberal Judaism has accepted for itself and which, during my five years as its chair, has shaped my actions, is to offer a form of Judaism which “opts in” to the modern world.

But we cannot opt in at the expense of opting out of the Jewish community. That is why I have made it a key tenet of my approach that -whatever our disagreements – Liberal Judaism plays its full part in the communal world. We can only exercise influence where we take a seat at the table.

So, as I enter my last year as chair, these are the challenges I set for Liberal Judaism: first, we need to collaborate better within our own Progressive community – Liberal and Reform. Already, we represent over a third of affiliated Jews; the more we work together, the stronger our voice.
Second, we need to provide support for our young people that is premised not on what we are against – fighting antisemitism and anti-Israeli sentiment – but what we are for – the positive role of Judaism in society at large.

And third, we need to resist the temptation to see the Jewish community as a continuum from strictly Orthodox to secular, with Progressive Judaism somewhere along the route. Instead, Progressive Judaism has the potential to offer the “third way”, which enables Jews, wherever they live and however they identify with their religion, to continue to be fulfilled as both Jews and participants in the wider world.

Third Way:


Liberal Judaism Biennial:


WUPJ President visits UK:


Liberal leader advocates federation:


Rabbi Julia Neuberger moves to West London:


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To MOOC or not to MOOC: Martin Bean and Mary Beard in discussion on The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4 040314

Sarah Montague: Now then, 250,000 people have signed up to take courses from Britain’s universities online via the website FutureLearn. It was set up a few months ago by the Open University in 20 British universities.
In the States, MOOCs (as they’re known) have been unbelievably popular. At Harvard more people signed up for them in a single year than graduated in its entire 378 year history. But since the first ones a couple of years ago, some of its early pioneers who were inspired by what they saw as MOOCs power to do good in the world, have been horrified by what they describe as its hijacking at home.
Mitch Duneier is a sociology professor at Princeton University. He was one of the first MOOC superstars. I interviewed him for a Radio 4 documentary series that I’d been doing, called “My Teacher is an App” and he told me that he loved teaching to people in a 113 countries, that it had been a highlight of his career, but he is now so worried about the effect of MOOCs on universities and colleges in the States that he’s stopped doing them.
Michell Duneier: It’s very clear to me that the agenda of some is to take these classes and to use them to cut back on funding for state universities. I had quite frankly become embarrassed to be associated with a movement that increasingly was looking like it was going to be putting colleagues and future professors out of business.
Sarah Montague: So what effect will their arrival here in the UK have on universities and colleges here. We’re joined by Martin Bean, who is Vice Chancellor of the Open University and it’s one of the organisations behind the FutureLearn MOOC platform online, and by Mary Beard who is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge. Good morning to you both.
Martin Bean: Morning Sarah.
Mary Beard: Hi!
Sarah Montague: Professor Beard, what do you reckon will happen as a result of MOOC’s arrival here? I mean obviously people could have done them online in the United States but there is an argument that if you could be taught by one of the best professors in the country, why go to a second rate university or college?
Mary Beard: Well I think there’s a danger and you know it’s early days yet, there’s a danger that what we’ll do is create a new division between the privileged few who actually get to meet their professors, who listen to their lectures, who argue with them, who have their exams marked by their professors – and on the other hand the unprivileged mass who just see some star professor on the internet, have an internet chat room to go to and have a computer marked assignment at the end. And I think we’re in danger of confusing here really the transmission of knowledge – which I suspect MOOCs are quite good at – and education. Education is about eyeball and interaction and it’s not really about having an assignment on Hamlet marked by multiple choice by computer.
Sarah Montague: Martin Bean, what about that charge that it’ll end up with a system where rich kids get taught by professors and poor kids get taught by computer?
Martin Bean: Yes, I think it’s really important that we don’t define quality based on mode Sarah. I mean I think if we focus on the learner, these courses are free, open to anyone regardless of age, wealth or educational background and they really don’t replace a degree but are a fantastic opportunity to sample one. And from FutureLearn, the early students coming out, 94% of them would recommend taking one to a friend. And you know the ability to open up. This week for example we’ve got Shakespeare and His World from the University of Warwick being offered and Discover Dentistry from the University of Sheffield.
Sarah Montague: Before you come back on that Professor Beard, Martin Bean, I said at the outset there’s 250,000 people I know have enrolled with FutureLearn which is tiny compared with the impact in the States. Is that because you don’t have the likes of Oxford and Cambridge among your 20 universities? And they are the sort of headline grabbers.
Martin Bean: No, absolutely not. We only really started offering our first courses in October, just a little while ago and we’ve already got 450,000 course enrolments, a 190 countries. So as I’ve often said, we might be a little bit late to the dance but we’re going to be very focused on the quality of the learner experience. I don’t think the future of MOOCs will be bigger is always better. I think it’ll be the quality of the experience that you can offer, Sarah.
Sarah Montague: Professor Beard.
Mary Beard: Martin’s been very judicious there really because MOOCs as an adjunct or a taster available free and for anyone, I think that’s wonderful and I think there isn’t anybody really in higher education who doesn’t think that it’s exciting to think about how we can use the internet to share what we offer more widely. The problem is when the MOOC turns out to be all you get and it’s a substitute for the kind of face to face, eyeball to eyeball interaction that the OU for example has, got a very long history in distance learning, has always added into their courses.
Sarah Montague: And that’s been one of the problems in the States hasn’t it Martin Bean, where actually with the best of intentions, everybody looked at this and thought, isn’t it incredible? We can reach people with an education that they’re not getting. But it’s this argument that actually it was hijacked at home, that universities struggling to fund courses were thinking, look we can put on a video course instead and just have our professor as a glorified teaching assistant.
Martin Bean: Yes, and that’s where I think people have got it wrong and I agree with Mary. You know MOOCs can’t be seen as an alternative to great discourse of tutors spending time with students interacting in a Socratic way and I think universities or higher education institutions that think that somehow they can give up great teaching by substituting it with MOOC like courses are sadly wrong Sarah.
Sarah Montague: Professor Beard, have you looked at the MOOCs that are online that the FutureLearn do?
Mary Beard: Yes, yes. I haven’t looked at FutureLearn actually, I’ve looked at – I’ve had some involvement with some in the States and you know I – you can’t possibly say that they are all bad or all good. Just – all education is varied. I think what worries me is the kind of the cult of the star lecturer that they kind of build-up you know that the star lecturer -
Sarah Montague: Do you know it’s the point on the star lecturer Mary Beard we’ll have to leave it at. Martin Bean and Mary Beard, thank you.

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The Courage to Be – according to Paul Tillich

The Protestant existentialist theologian Paul Tillich summed up “the courage to be”: the courage to be part of a larger whole, the courage to stand alone, and the courage to accept the fact that we are carried by the creative power of being in which every creature participates.

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