The Open University has just announced its transitional arrangements for current students, and new fees for England from September 2012: 5k per full-time equivalent study (120 credits). Three months ago, on May 3rd, I started my new job as Director of Communications at The Open University. It has been exceptionally exciting and busy since. This is partly because of all the external and internal communication involved with the announcement, and the need to engage at every level through a wide range of communication channels. I am relishing the prospect of developing my role as Editor-in-Chief of our digital presence, and improving our internal communications.
The announcement is only the beginning, but does give students a real choice. The Open University is the UK’s largest University, and one of the very top rated for student satisfaction. Behind this announcement is a UK Market Strategy which has involved many months of careful preparation, researching the market and even better understanding the needs of our students. The research confirmed that we are getting it broadly right, and highlighted where we can make even more of a difference. The changes that The Open University is working on all focus on improving the quality of the student experience. However challenging the changing funding environment in higher education, we now have even more of opportunity to fulfil our social purpose. Interstingly, earlier this week, we marked the opening of the Jennie Lee Building, and used it an opportunity to bring together many of our first pioneers. Because of the scale at which we operate, and the innovative teaching methods we employ, we can continue to deliver the social mission – openness to all- and be economically sustainable. Our fees for England for next year we have managed to keep as low as we can, even though in common with other Universities, fees have had to go up. Media coverage has highlighted how well our fees will compare. The whole higher education sector is still getting to grips with the changes in government funding, different in each of the four nations across the UK. The Open University has an opportunity not just to be an effective player in the sector, but set a new benchmark for quality, great value, flexible education. The argument must surely shift from quality means high price, to quality can mean flexible education at lower cost.
Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, has spoken of “a new era of student choice”. The future for the sector is unchartered. From what I have seen of the leadership of the OU, our academic staff, student services and all the support services, I am very proud to be at The Open University. We are responding to events and taking a lead. Working with my dynamic communications team, and other colleagues across the University, I feel every day that we are in a position to build on 41 years of cutting-edge part-time education, and make a significant contribution to driving economic development and delivering social justice. Our offer will become increasingly attractive to students in years to come, particularly those who want to enhance their job and career prospects. The Open University has never been more relevant.