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The Open University (OU) offers employers a range of ways to support employees in developing their confidence in learning and set them on a path to work and career-related qualifications. The Open up your learning podcast series explores the different options available to employers. In this episode we take a look at the BA/BSc (Hons) Open degree.
The concept of the Open degree goes way back to when the OU was first created in 1969. The founders of the OU thought learners should have access to a broader type of education than that offered by traditional universities. They thought learning should be flexible, accessible and interdisciplinary. And that vision still holds today.
It’s one of the reasons why the OU’s Open degree is so suited to modern business needs. Employers and employees need learning that is flexible and can be moulded to suit individual needs and adapted as those needs change.
The podcast "How to utilise the BA/BSc (Hons) Open degree" in the workplace looks at what the undergraduate degree consists of and how it can be used for flexible learning in a business context. Corporate learning journalist Martin Couzins chaired the podcast, joined by panelists from the OU - John Baxter, Qualification Director for the undergraduate Open degree, Helen Cooke, Qualification Manager for the undergraduate Open degree and Simon Tindall, Head of Skills and Innovation.
Cooke says the Open degree is just as relevant now as it was 51 years ago. It gives employers and employees access to a more diverse range of skills, knowledge and qualifications, which is hugely important as the world of work is expected to change significantly in the coming years. Employers will need a multi-disciplinary workforce that can adapt as business needs evolve. “There’s been very much a rise in the requirement of employees to have broader knowledge and broader skills,” she says. “We feel that with uncertainty around the future of work and what jobs might look like in the future, then having that breadth of skills and knowledge is really important.”
The OU has always prided itself on breaking down barriers to education and there are few restrictions with the Open degree. Students do not have to have any qualifications in order to qualify for study and they can flex their learning as they work through the modules. Nor do they need to stick to one discipline. In fact, the degree is designed to facilitate the studying of different disciplines, such as poetry and music, alongside more business-type qualifications, such as leadership and management or business communications. Employers and learners can choose to focus on a particular skills set, engineering or mathematics for example, whilst also incorporating other subjects into the mix.
Baxter says it makes for a more rounded education and workforce. This approach fits well with current and future workplace needs as it enables employers to have a workforce with a modern mix of skills, encompassing core skills, the creative arts, communication, social sciences, cognitive flexibility and networking. Baxter thinks this is really important because real world problems are multi-faceted, requiring multi-disciplinary working and solutions. “You want them (employees) to carry a variety of different skills and knowledge and to engage the different personalities on solving complex business or technical issues,” he says. “It aligns very much with employers saying they want future graduates and employees to have a wide range of skills.”
It also encourages the concept of lifelong, flexible learning, something that employers and L&D professionals talk a lot about now.
One of the major challenges facing organisations and individuals is that it is hard to accurately predict what work will look like in 5-10-15 years’ time – what skills will be required, what job roles will exist and how the nature of work will have changed. Because of that, Tindall says a flexible approach to learning is vital. “We don’t know what future career jobs will be. We don’t know the requirements. There’s always going to be professions and disciplines that require specific training – medicine, for example – but there’s going to be an awful lot of jobs where you need a wide variety of different skills and disciplines and I think this approach around the Open degree fits that profile.”
At the moment, the OU has around 25,000 students linked to its Open degree, with roughly 7500 actively studying a module currently. As part of the OU’s mission to make education as accessible as possible, it allows learners to transfer credits from learning they have already completed, including from other institutions.