I’ve just returned to my desk following a seminar titled “22% – could we do better?” presented by former OU Professor Ormond Simpson.

This headline figure refers to the percentage of students who start with a Level 1 (equivalent to FHEQ level 4) module at the Open University and then go on to study through to graduation. It appears to compare poorly with the overall figure for part time higher education students in the UK (39%) and with London University ‘external degree students (46%). The figure for full time students in the UK is 82%. Ormond also highlighted how these rates have been dropping for some time (although he accepted that they may have stabilised recently). He also raised a concern about the exclusion of the 30% of households with no access to a broadband connection.

Provocatively Ormond refers to this as ‘educational passchendaelism’ with thousands going ‘over the top’ to little purpose other than a range of negative effects on students. It was also pointed out that while the level of investment required to gain a degree may be lower for an Open University student, the likelihood of this investment being lost was very high (at 78%).

The possible reasons for a falling were also outlined:

  • Abolition of tutor counsellors Tutor counsellors used to be employed by the Open University. They would stay with a student as they moved from course to course.
  • The abolition of the requirement to take an initial level 1 course
  • Abandoning the Retention Project. This project had looked at the impact of tutors making more pro-active contact with their students.
  • The OU’s ‘technophilia’
  • The lack of institutional research on retention
  • Changes in the Associate Lecturer pay system. These changes meant that ALs were no longer paid separately for each assignment they marked.
  • The OU becoming more like a conventional university (with an increased emphasis on research).

Ormond concluded by suggesting three things he thought might work to improve retention:

  1. A system of pro-active phone contacts before course start
  2. Pro-active contact during the course from tutors – whose focus should be learning motivation rather than teaching course content
  3. Analysis of retention initiatives in terms of their return on investment.

If you would like to explore Ormond’s work more this is the link: –

Link: www.ormondsimpson.com

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