Founded in 1969, at the outset of The Open University’s history, the OU’s BA/BSc (Hons) “Open” degree was the only degree qualification offered by The Open University for over 30 years, until named degrees were introduced in 2000. This unique qualification remains the University’s largest degree in terms of student numbers and module choice, enabling students to construct a personalised qualification from a wide range of undergraduate modules across all faculties of the OU, and resulting in a flexible study path which focuses on personal interests and/or career-related skills.
Allowing students to study across a range of chosen subjects in a multidisciplinary way sits at the very heart of the OU’s mission to provide “a broader type of education than that provided by a usual degree” (Open University Planning Committee, 1969). It is a qualification that has evolved throughout its history to meet changing circumstances, yet it is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s, and remains unique within the higher education sector. In fact, the Open degree has evolved from a single ‘General BA’ (as it was originally known) into a full programme of curriculum that enables students to graduate with a Certificate of Higher Education Open, Diploma of Higher Education Open, a BA or BSc Open degree (with or without honours), a BSc (Hons) Combined STEM degree and, from October 2018, a MA or MSc Open postgraduate qualification.
This continuous evolution has not been easy, and the Open degree has had to adapt throughout its history to meet changing circumstances, particularly in response to external pressures that have led to the introduction of subject-specific degrees in recent years. However, it’s popularity and uniqueness have not only survived, but continue to thrive in a world where the development of graduates with future-proof, non-discipline specific, skills is becoming increasingly important for employers, and students continue to demand – and value – having the freedom to design and achieve their own personalised OU qualification.